The sinking Sixers are a thing of beauty

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The sinking Sixers are a thing of beauty

There was a game before the game. About two hours before tip-off, a handful of Sixers and Bucks shot around on the Wells Fargo Center court. Some media members sat off to the side and watched. Someone wondered how many Bucks anyone could name. Someone else wondered how many Sixers could be identified. One of the arena security guards quickly joined in.

The Bucks and Sixers were wearing warm-ups. No jerseys with helpful numbers. Just random bodies with random faces before the worst team in the NBA faced the second-worst team. The winner named four out of five Bucks. The best anyone could do was three out of six Sixers.

These Sixers should be outfitted with “Hello my name is” stickers. It would be helpful. Does Brett Brown know all the names of all his players?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Yeah.”

Everyone laughed. He laughed, too.

“Absolutely,” Brown continued. “I can name them all. You’ll hear me say ‘Byron, Henry.’ You’ll hear me say ‘Eric, get that pushed.’ It’s part of the landscape. It’s just part of coaching the Philadelphia 76ers in the year 2014. I like it in a sadistic way.”

What’s not to like? If you’re part of the pro-tank faction, this is exactly what you wanted: A roster so shallow that Vegas installed the 10-win Bucks as a three-point favorite on the road on Monday. And why not? The Sixers have Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young and a bunch of other guys you either don’t know or will quickly forget. The Bucks might have the worst record in the league, but the Sixers have the worst on-paper players.

Bucks 130, Sixers 110 (see story).

It was a season-high for Milwaukee. The Sixers have lost 11 straight, and 10 in a row at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s the longest overall losing streak since a 12-game slide in 2009. And it’s the worst stretch at home since they dropped 12 straight on their court in 1997. As the Sixers try to limbo their way to the worst record in the league, you wonder how low they can go.

This is a big stretch for them. In addition to playing the Bucks, the Sixers will also face the Magic (owners of the third-worst record) twice in the next three games. But don’t count their ping-pong balls just yet. At present, the Sixers have a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick. The Bucks have a 25 percent chance. Even though the Sixers just lost to the Bucks, and even though Sam Hinkie happily (and rightly) gutted an already empty shell at the trade deadline, it’s going to be tough for the Sixers to beat the Bucks to the bottom of the standings.

The Sixers are 15-42. The Bucks are 11-45. The Sixers are just three games up in the loss column. They’re close. But are they close enough? Let’s say the Sixers win three more games. Three victories in their last 25 games is a really small number. That would mean the Bucks -- who are truly awful, despite beating the Sixers -- would have to win seven of their final 26 outings to end with the same record. That’s 26.9 percent of the Bucks’ remaining games. That’s a lot for a team that hasn’t won back-to-back outings all season.

But, hey, it’s not impossible for the Sixers to play considerably worse than the Bucks for the remainder of the year. In fact, it seems likely. Maybe the Sixers will impress everyone with how unimpressive they can be.

Brown used several adjectives to describe the Sixers’ performance against the hapless Bucks. He called it “sloppy” and “hard” and “ugly.” He said they’re going through some “adversity,” but he also said “I guess that’s what we all signed up for.”

“You just stay true to what you know you have to do to get where you want to go,” Brown said. “You know, you can’t blink. We’ve had lots of these types of nights, haven’t we? And so, you stay the course. You just can’t blink. All the things that I’ve stood up here and said for several months in relation to how people prepare and how they practice and how they pay attention in the video room and in regards to their character and toughness as people. It goes on and on. We just can’t blink. We’ve got to make sure the model that we’re setting up is proper, and then you fill in the blanks with people.”

The filling in will come later. For now, the blanks will do just fine.

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being 100 percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded, as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014.

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.