Don’t look now – seriously, don’t look now or at any other time between now and April 13 – but the Philadelphia 76ers still have a chance to set an NBA record for futility.
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The team enters Friday night with a 9-66 record, worst in the NBA. If the team loses its next seven contests, something that statistically is a likely scenario for a squad that has gone 1-23 since Feb. 6, the team will tie the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in NBA history.
They’ll manage to outrank the former Charlotte Bobcats in season-worst winning percentage under this scenario, Charlotte lost 59 of 66 games in 2011-12 to finish with a .106 season-long percentage, but there was at least a chance that those plucky, Tyrus Thomas-led Bobcats could have made a small run had that season not been shortened by a lockout.
Currently, the Sixers are working with players that, frankly, aren’t long for this league. Starters like Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington have assured NBA futures, but only as end-of-bench types. Big man Nerlens Noel has missed the last four games and will miss his team’s next contest. Rookie Jahlil Okafor’s star-crossed rookie year ended over a month ago, and 2014 lottery pick Joel Embiid hasn’t played a game this season.
Short of cobbling together an improbable seven-game winning streak to end the season, the 76ers are in line to have the best chance at a top overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. The team, genuinely, has pride to play for and it should want to win out. This is why veteran Carl Landry is starting, and why Elton Brand is still pump-faking for them in the paint.
Brand just wasn’t taking a “nah, we’re not tanking” party line in the wake of the team’s most recent defeat to Charlotte on Tuesday:
Elton Brand sat at his locker Tuesday night and uttered six words: "We need to turn this around."
"When I talk about turning it around, just get some wins, end of the season, feel good," said Brand, whose squad has seven games left. "I've been on teams like the [Atlanta] Hawks. A few years ago, we won some games at the end and made the playoffs. Then next year, that carried over.
"So we just want to feel good about the season, play strong, and get off this schneid."
Brand, the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, might be working in his final NBA season. You can bet for damn sure that he doesn’t want to end his career on a 17-game losing streak. Bookending a brilliant professional life with miserable teams in Chicago and Philadelphia seems almost cruel and unfair, but this is how it might turn out.
Do the Sixers have it in them to get one or possibly two more before things let out?
Philly will take on those same Hornets on Friday, a squad locked in a three-way tie with the Celtics and Heat for the fourth seed in the East. Charlotte is just a game behind Atlanta for the third seed, even. This is a team, working from home in North Carolina, that will bring it.
Working on the second night of a back to back the Sixers will welcome the Pacers to Philadelphia on Saturday night. The Pacers are in a dogfight of their own, trying alternately to hold off the Chicago Bulls for the final playoff spot with one arm while attempting to pass the Detroit Pistons and grab the second seed with the other. Combined, the Hornets and Pacers are 5-0 against Philly this year. Most teams are.
On paper, Tuesday’s pairing in Philly against the New Orleans Pelicans will provide the 76ers with its best chance at a win. It’s not just that the Pelicans have shut down Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday for the season, most of the team’s hoped-for eight-man rotation is down, and the Sixers will have two days of practice prior to the contest, while hopefully admitting Noel (who was the biggest reason for Philly’s surprisingly stout defense last year) back into the fold.
Next Friday sees the Sixers playing the Knicks, who have lost three straight since downing the Bulls in consecutive games, but showcased a renewed sense of vigor in its most recent loss to Dallas with more of their young prospects taking the stage.
The Bucks will visit Philadelphia on the Sunday following the Knick game, and the 76ers will take trips to Toronto (who will most assuredly be resting its roster) and Chicago (who will feature a decimated roster whether they’re in or out of playoff contention) to finish the season.
The Sixers have not beaten anyone on this list. They have just one win against a team with a record over .500, a shocking blowout beatdown of a 39-36 Portland Trail Blazer team that was expected to be rebuilding this year. Instead, the Sixers have feasted on the Lakers, Magic, the Suns twice, Minnesota, Kings and the Brooklyn Nets twice. As dire as the draft pick-less Nets’ situation is, at least they’ve found success in picking prizes from the waiver wire – guard Sean Kilpatrick has been a revelation as a shooter in BKN.
Philadelphia started the season with 18 straight losses, but seemed well on its way toward avoiding infamy after winning three of five in late January – that run left them on pace for 13 wins. Pace don’t play, though. You still have to go out and outscore another band of pros over the term of 48 minutes, and while the Sixers would seem to have a couple of gimmies between now and the team’s last game, that coin flip could land the wrong way seven more times.
We could be watching history, all over again.
(But, seriously, don’t watch.)
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