At long last -- a victory.
The Sixers won their first game of the 2014-15 season on Wednesday, defeating the Timberwolves 85-77 in Minnesota to snap a 17-game losing streak.
For the second time in as many seasons, Philadelphia managed to narrowly avoid setting an NBA record for losing. From January to March 2014, the Sixers lost 26 consecutive games, tying the 2010-11 Cavaliers for the longest losing streak in NBA history. Philadelphia ended that streak with a 123-98 win over Detroit on March 29, thereby avoiding sole possession of the “NBA’s longest losers” tag.
Similarly, Wednesday’s win over Minnesota ensured that Philadelphia did not tie the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets for the longest losing streak to start a season. Instead, the Sixers join the 1988-89 Heat and the 1998-99 Clippers as the three teams to open a season with an 0-17 record.
Had the Timberwolves prevailed, the Sixers would have been in position to become the only team in NBA history to lose its first 19 games on Friday, when they are set to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
Philadelphia’s first win came in ugly fashion, not that coach Brett Brown or any of his players should care about aesthetics at this point. The Sixers managed just nine points in the second quarter and trailed 34-32 at halftime. The two teams combined to commit 38 turnovers and shoot 8-for-41 (19.5 percent) on three-pointers. Even the referees had an off night, as the game had to be re-started after 16 seconds because the two teams needed to switch ends of the court. Nevertheless, a win is a win.
"You’re just proud of them for staying together, and they're just overjoyed," Brown said of his team, according to Philly.com. "We all feel like we've been pretty close the last handful of games, dozen games, we've been pretty close.”
Earlier Friday, Brown had laid out his plans for celebrating the end of the streak.
"Cartwheels, somersaults, great dinner with my family," Brown said, according to the Associated Press. "Hug my players. Really, salute the fans."
Here’s a quick look at how the 2014-15 Sixers compared to the 2009-10 Nets during the lengthy losing streaks to start the season:
|Team||Start||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating||Average Margin of Defeat||Double-digit losses||20+ point losses|
|2009-10 Nets||0-18||90.9 (30th)||103.8 (18th)||-13.8 (29th)||11.3 points||12||1|
|2014-15 Sixers||0-17||91.4 (30th)||105.5 (24th)||-14.1 (30th)||14.4 points||9||4|
Although this is a bit like comparing spoiled milk to rotten meat, an argument can be made that Philadelphia’s start was actually worse than New Jersey’s record-holding beginning that saw the firing of coach Lawrence Frank after 16 games. Both teams struggled mightily on offense, but the Sixers’ defense and net rating were both worse than the Nets’ during the periods before their first respective victories. Philadelphia also suffered far more blowout defeats than did New Jersey, including a whopping 53-point loss to Dallas last month.
Of course, Philadelphia’s current futility somehow represents an improvement over last season's abomination, when GM Sam Hinkie moved out multiple veteran pieces at the deadline to accelerate an end-of-season tank job. Here’s a look at how the Sixers’ losing streaks from this season and last season compare:
|Team||Consecutive losses||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating||Average Margin of Defeat||Double-digit losses||20+ point losses|
|26||92.2 (30th)||109.7 (27th)||-17.5 (30th)||17.1 points||19||9|
|17||91.4 (30th)||105.5 (24th)||-14.1 (30th)||14.4 points||9||4|
With a win under their belt, the Sixers can now turn their attention to avoiding the NBA’s worst all-time record. The 1972-73 Sixers currently hold that mark in an 82-game season with a 9-73 (.110) record. The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats set a new record for the worst winning percentage of all-time (.106) when they went 7-59 during a lockout-shortened season. Both marks are certainly in play for an inexperienced Philadelphia roster that's lacking in depth and talent.
Where, exactly, will the Sixers go from here? History suggests they will likely go back to losing, in volume. Here’s a rundown of how the worst-starting teams in NBA history finished their campaigns:
|1998-99 Clippers||0-17||9-41 (lockout)|
Michael Carter-Williams, the 2014 Rookie of the Year, led the Sixers with 20 points (on 9-for-20 shooting), nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Robert Covington, who spent most of last season in the D-League, also hit three three-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish with 17 points.
The Timberwolves fell to 4-13 and now possess the worst record in the Western Conference.