The 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers were never built to win many games, but the reality of the situation has been much worse than anyone anticipated. Heading into Wednesday night's game at the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sixers had lost their first 17 contests of the season by an average margin of 14.4 points. They also boasted the league's least efficient offense and one of its worst defenses. A loss vs. Minnesota would put Philadelphia into a tie with the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets for the most consecutive losses to start a season, with Friday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder looming as a likely record-breaker.
The franchise can now rest easy, because the Sixers topped the Wolves 85-77 in a close, largely unwatchable game at Target Center. At 1-17, Philadelphia is still the worst team in the NBA by 1 1/2 games (behind the Detroit Pistons), but they can at least imagine a brighter future.
Then again, this welcomed result does not indicate that the Sixers played especially well. Both teams struggled to score throughout the game, in keeping with their performances for much of the season so far. The Wolves, playing without the injured Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, trotted out an active roster not considerably better than that of the Sixers, albeit one with slightly more established NBA rotation players.
Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field (39 percent for Philly, 35.7 percent for Minnesota) and 25 percent from three-point range (5-of-24 for Philly, 3-of-17 for Minnesota). The score at the half was just 34-32 in favor of the Wolves, with the Sixers following up a 23-point first quarter with just nine points in the second.
The best proof of the general quality of the game might have come on its first attempt at an opening possession. After the Sixers won the tip-off, Henry Sims drew a foul and got set to head to the line. Except referees then realized that the teams had started going towards the wrong baskets, and the whole game had to be restarted again. Take a look:
Yes, the first 16 seconds of the game were simply stricken from the record. If only the Sixers could have done the same to their first 17 games.
However, if we're going to put this win into any mitigating context, then we must also admit that the Sixers made enough plays in crunch time to come away with the win. After Mo Williams gave the Wolves a 75-73 lead with 2:16 remaining, it looked as if Philadelphia was headed for another disappointment. But point guard Michael Carter-Williams (20 points, nine assists, and nine rebounds) ran the offense well and took advantage of the Wolves' sieve-like defense to close on a 12-2 run.
The other star of the night was journeyman forward Robert Covington, playing in just his ninth game for the team after signing in mid-November. Like several others on the Sixers roster, Covington went undrafted and tried to work his way up to the NBA through the D-League. It's unclear if he factors into the franchise's long-term vision, but his 17 points and three fourth-quarter three-pointers were instrumental to the win.
The Sixers' prognosis for the rest of 2014-15 isn't suddenly sunny now that they've won a single game. In fact, they could soon find themselves in line to match another record for early-season futility. The 1970-71 Cleveland Cavaliers hold the mark for worst start to the season with just one win (1-27). If the Sixers manage another win before their 29th game, they'll also need to avoid the 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks' record for worst start to the first half of the 82-game schedule (2-39). Those records might not be as ugly as going so long without any victories at all, but they speak to the level of this squad. We will have to see if Wednesday's win serves as a building block or an outlier.
- - - - - - -