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: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Elfrid Payton scored 22 of his season-high 25 points in the first half and the Orlando Magic overcame John Wall's 52-point performance to beat the Washington Wizards, 124-116 on Tuesday night.

Wall had the highest-scoring game of his career and kept Washington in it with 33 points in the second half as the Wizards cut the lead below 10 in the fourth quarter. The guard made 18 of 31 from the field and added eight assists.

Payton went 8 for 8 from the field and 3 for 3 from the line off the bench in that first half, nearly matching his previous season best of 23 points in the first two quarters alone. Payton finished 9 for 12 and handed out nine assists.

Orlando won its third straight game and its 124 points were a season high (see full recap).

Spurs trounce Timberwolves to reach 13-0 on the road
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and the San Antonio Spurs improved to 13-0 on the road this season with a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Leonard hit 11 of 15 shots after not scoring at all in the first quarter and Patty Mills scored 15 points off the bench for the Spurs (18-4), who played without Tony Parker after he bruised his left knee against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. San Antonio overcame a slow start to shoot 52.7 percent.

The Spurs moved past the 1969-70 New York Knicks to take sole possession of the second-best road start to begin a season in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors started 14-0 last year.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 3 of 16 (see full recap).

Anthony, Knicks blow past depleted Heat
MIAMI -- Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the New York Knicks beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night.

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds (see full recap).

Sixers' gutsy effort not enough in tight loss to Grizzlies

Sixers' gutsy effort not enough in tight loss to Grizzlies

BOX SCORE

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The ice bucket where his feet were chilling, the ice bags on both knees, the tired, almost resigned look on his face — and the very full stat line — were proof positive that Ersan Ilyasova gave it everything he had, and then some, Tuesday night for the Sixers.

Yet in the end — again — it was not enough to keep Memphis' All-Star bigs, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, from pummeling their way to a ninth straight win over the Sixers, 96-91, before 13,521 at FedEx Forum (see Instant Replay).

Both teams were in the second game of back-to-backs. Both benches were severely depleted by injuries and illness. Randolph had not played since a double-overtime win in Philadelphia Nov. 23, just hours before his mother suddenly died. Star point guard Mike Conley is out with two fractured vertebra, leaving the point to a pair of rookies.

On the Sixers’ side, rookie star Joel Embiid was tethered to the bench for mandatory rest in the second game of a back-to-back. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Nerlens Noel (knee), Jerryd Bayless (wrist) and, of course, Ben Simmons (foot) were all out.

The Sixers had lost seven straight since that first meeting with the Grizzlies this season at the Wells Fargo Center.

Ilyasova did his part that night with season highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds. Thin up front on Tuesday, Brown relied on Ilyasova’s tenacity inside along with the ability of the veteran and Dario Saric to hit the three and drive to the hoop. Ilyasova, a pending free agent from Turkey, stepped up again with 23 points, including four threes, 17 boards, four assists and two blocks.

“That’s the only way we’re going to win,” Ilyasova said. “Come out with more energy and give it 110 percent. That, and play smart.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown said, “There is a toughness to him. He’s an acquired assassin. He goes about his business. He does it without emotion.”

Saric added 17 points, including the trey that helped give the Sixers a 77-76 lead after three quarters and the bucket that put them up, 91-89, with less than two minutes to play.

Gasol, coming off a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and as many assists in a double-OT win at New Orleans on Monday, had 26 points and 12 boards. Randolph struggled until the fourth quarter. He parked down low for eight of his 12 points in the frame. Randolph also finished with 14 rebounds and had a loving crowd wanting to give him a giant bear hug.

“He rebounds in his sleep,” Brown said of Z-Bo. “Any 50-50 balls that are close to the rim … he’s done that his whole life. … Zach and Marc are obviously NBA veterans very capable of closing out games.”

The Sixers, who stayed in the game by hitting 14 of 41 three-point tries, had two of their 16 turnovers in the final 1:06. They also hit just 13 of 26 free throws, were outrebounded, 53-45, and outscored in the paint, 52-34.

“We’ve got to play smarter and take care of little things like free throws and the glass,” Ilyasova said.

Still, Randolph left the door open. With the Grizzlies up 94-91, he missed two free throws with nine seconds left. The Sixers set up Nik Stauskas (12 points) for a left-wing three. But he missed the shot and was 1 of 8 from distance on the night.

“I got a really good look, it just didn’t fall,” Stauskas said. “That’s been the theme the last two years. We fight, we fight and things just don’t go our way. We make a few mistakes and teams capitalize.”

The Grizzlies came through again in “clutch time” and are now 11-0 in games decided by five points or less or that reached overtime. 

The Sixers are 4-18 for the season and losers of eight straight going into Thursday’s game at New Orleans.

Brown said he told his team after the loss that the group “showed tremendous character. Fourth game in five nights. We came down with nine guys, are playing a tough, playoff, hard Memphis team. We had a chance to win the game and I was proud of their effort.”

Still, Stauskas said effort without results “gets old. It really gets old.”