Unfortunately, bad luck is the ultimate taboo in sports discourse. No one wants to hear that luck, or a lack of it, is the culprit for a team’s performance. But guess what? Luck and randomness dictate the universe. The best teams in the NBA are able to weather bad luck, but the worst teams, like the Rockets, look absolutely abysmal when the tides turn.
The most notable swing over the Rockets’ past 13 games, compared to the previous 27, has been the decisions of referees and free throw shooting. The Rockets have averaged 20.4 personal fouls over the past 13 games, which is down from the 20.8 they averaged over the previous 27. However, those fouls have resulted in 25 free-throw attempts per game for the opposition, compared to 22.9 free throws over the first 27 games of the season.
Were the Rockets getting lucky before? Are they getting unlucky now? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that randomness is at play. They’re fouling less but sending more guys to the line.
On the flip side, the Rockets have been getting far fewer calls on offense. They’ve only generated 19.7 fouls from the opposition over the past 13 games, which is a significant drop from the 22.6 they were generating before. However, the net result has seen their free throw attempts per game only decline from 25.9 per game to 24.2.
Where the Rockets have really seen their luck turn is what happens once someone is at the line. The Rockets started the season averaging 20.4 points at the free throw line on 78.8% shooting but have seen those figures drop to 17.5 points and 72.1% over their past 13 games. Conversely, their opponents went from averaging 17.8 points per game at the line on 77.7% shooting to 19.9 points on 79.7% shooting.
The randomness of generating free throws through the whistle and hitting them once you’re there has taken a massive turn for the worse for the Rockets over the past 13 games. They’re generating 2.9 fewer points per game at the stripe and allowing 2.1 more compared to the beginning of the season. A 5.0-point swing at the line is how a team like the Rockets goes into a 1-12 tailspin, and a lot of it looks down to randomness.