In the zone. In a groove. En fuego. Sports broadcasters—and fans—have coined any number of terrible clichés to describe an athlete, especially a basketball or a baseball player, on a hot streak. The idea that a player might have the “hot hand”—a greater chance of draining his next shot or driving his next pitch—is, to many people, a fact as undeniable as the numbers on the scoreboard itself.
To researchers, it’s something else: a problem to be solved. Do players really get hot—quantifiably? Or are we just seeing inevitable patterns in an ultimately random world?