(AP) – They are a loss away from becoming the Philadelphia 26ers.
As in, losers of 26 in a row.
A skid that would match the longest losing streak in NBA history and leave the 76ers one loss of holding the record for the four major professional sports.
”It’s tough we lose them consecutively, but it’s the NBA,” guard Tony Wroten said. ”You play another day.”
With a another loss Thursday night at Houston, the Sixers (15-56) will tie the NBA record of 26 straight losses set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. The potential record setter is Saturday at home against Detroit.
But the 76ers say this seemingly infinite skid comes with a purpose: Finishing first.
Philadelphia is losing to win the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Former Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is among the critics that call Philly’s style of lottery-bound losing tanking. Sixers management simply says it’s old-fashioned rebuilding. Whatever the label, the team with the worst record in the NBA has a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick.
But there’s a flaw in the Sixers’ plan: Even with the avalanche of defeats, they still don’t have the worst record in the NBA, Milwaukee does. Entering Thursday, the Bucks are 13-58 and that puts them in the driver’s seat as they plummet toward the top spot.
The Bucks may be serving as motivation for the Sixers; there’s no suspense these days in the outcome of Philadelphia games. The Sixers been outscored by 16.9 points during the losing streak; Cleveland was outscored by 13.7 while setting the record.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said the Sixers will be better off as a result of the losing.
”It’s those short-term, real pains for what we hope will be a bunch of long-term gains,” Brown said. ”This period of time is not pleasant for any of us. But it’s necessary.”
The Rockets (48-22) haven’t fallen to a team with a losing record since Jan. 10 at Atlanta, and they’ve won four straight heading into this matchup – all against teams .500 or worse.
Houston has shot 52.9 percent in that stretch – 42.4 percent from 3-point range – and now heads home, where it hasn’t lost since Jan. 24 and has won its past 10 games by an average of 13.9 points.
"We just want to prepare for the playoffs," James Harden said after scoring 31 points in Monday’s 100-89 win at Charlotte. "Our entire game needs to go to another level, defensively and offensively. Being consistent with sharing the basketball, and defensively, being consistent with helping each other out."
Harden sat out with a bruised left foot when the Rockets visited Philadelphia on Nov. 13, and his absence was felt as the 76ers came from 10 down after the third quarter to win 123-117 in overtime.
Jeremy Lin had 34 points and eight assists for Houston, but Philadelphia’s starting backcourt was even better. James Anderson scored 36 points – the only time in his career he’s topped 20 – and Wroten recorded his only career triple-double with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
That was the last victory in Philadelphia’s surprising 4-4 start, and now the Sixers haven’t won since Jan. 29 on former guard Evan Turner’s buzzer-beater at Boston. They’ve been crushed (123-78 by the Clippers and 123-80 by Golden State in consecutive games) and had a few close calls (losing 93-92 to the Knicks). And this week they were called out by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said the losing streak was ”bad for everyone.”
The 76ers went 0 for February. Lose to the Rockets and they’ll be two away from 0 for March.