With another loss Wednesday night, the 2014 Philadelphia 76ers are creeping ever closer towards the history books. The relatively competitive 102-94 defeat to the Chicago Bulls leaves the losing streak at 22 with room to grow. Try though they may, Thaddeus Young’s valiant 24 points off 19 shots and Michael Carter-Williams‘ line of 16-9-7 will once again go down as a good effort in the face of defeat.
It really is quite stunning that in a game of such randomness, with every shot a loose probability and every foul a judgment call, a team is bad enough to consistently be on the losing side. In all this it’s important to remember that the Philadelphia 76ers employ multiple professional basketball players, collected from the same talent pool as the other 29 teams. At this point they are so bad, that if the anti-tanking movement ever changes the draft lottery or brings about competitive rule change, the poster boy for this landmark change will be the 2014 Philadelphia 76ers.
This time last year the Miami Heat were coming to the end of their 27-game winning streak, a run of dominance and willful consistency as they looked to stake their claim among the greatest to ever play. Currently, the 76ers are plowing through with a similar consistency, performances equal in magnitude but entirely opposite in consequence to the reigning Miami Heat. As the Heat finished last season with a championship, the 76ers also remain on course for their lofty goals, the lottery-granted chance to Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid.
4 games away from the NBA’s all-time losing streak set at 26 by the post-Decision Cleveland Cavaliers, it gets no easier for the 76ers. In a sharp twist, befitting the current season, the next four-game stretch may well be the season’s most difficult. A home game to the resurgent Phil Jackson-led Knicks, followed by a road trip to Chicago, San Antonio and Houston. Maintaining their dignity will require more than just a solid effort against playoffs team of this quality.
If it were not clear already, the current representation of professional basketball in Philadelphia is among the worst in history. Despite not even holding the league’s worst record this season (thank you, Milwaukee), the 76ers have a point differential of -11.4 which ranks as the 10th worst since records began in 1946 (via basketball-reference.com). Furthermore, basketball-reference.com has a ‘simple rating system’ score combining point differential and strength of schedule. Given the woeful Eastern Conference competition this year, this SRS score is the 5th worst of all time. That is really, really difficult to do. We’re not just talking lottery picks, we’re hypothetically matching them up with the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats to consign the loser to the basketball underworld.
Good things come to those who wait, allegedly, and we’ll see where the ping-pong balls fall in June. But for now, it’s getting hard to see how a team can return unscathed from the depths to which they have plunged.