It was right there for the Sixers on Saturday night. In fact, it could not have been set up any better.
At home against a struggling team playing a back-to-back in the last game of a winless six-game road trip. Did we mention that the team had the worst record in the Western Conference?
And yet the Sixers still figured out another way to lose. This time it was a 104-92 defeat to the hapless Utah Jazz for their 16th straight loss (see Instant Replay). At 15-47, there are very few chances to win one more game left on the schedule. Actually, of the 19 remaining games, the Sixers play 14 times against teams in playoff position.
So if not on Saturday night, then where will that next win come from? And how worried is coach Brett Brown that all of the losses are demoralizing his players?
“It’s been my biggest fear is that you end up losing the group because of the situation and they end up looking at you a little bit differently and you look at them a little differently,” Brown said. “But I’m not looking at them any differently than I did in October. I hope they are understanding and it’s something I worry about creeping in.
“I'm going to give that group the benefit of the doubt. We're going to see this thing through.”
There are other factors in play that could mess with young players’ minds, too. For instance, the franchise record for consecutive losses is 20, set by the 9-73 team in 1972-73 that is regarded as the worst in NBA history. And the NBA record is 26 in a row set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. Given that the Vegas odds are 3-to-1 in favor of the Sixers losing out (see story), those dubious records are there for the taking.
Saturday’s game was there for the taking, too. The Sixers actually had a five-point lead in the third quarter and rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to forge a tie at 91 with 2:51 left in the game.
With Tony Wroten scoring a career-high 30 points and Thaddeus Young finding his mark in the low post, hitting for 18 points, the Sixers’ chances down the stretch looked good.
But then it all just fell apart.
“When you lose that many in a row, you want to win bad and we definitely felt like that was the game [to win],” Wroten said after his 12-for-15 shooting performance off the bench. “We were that close in the game. It went down to the wire and we let one slip away.”
Alec Burks drilled a corner three-pointer with 2:35 left to kick off a 13-1 run for the Jazz to close out the game. During that stretch, the Sixers missed their final seven shots — three of them were layups — while Utah got a pair of “and-1” layups from Gordon Hayward on back-to-back possessions.
So close, yet so far away.
“It sounds a bit trivial and maybe a bit corny, but I think they deserve it,” Brown said. “They put in the time. They don’t crumble, they stay together, they put in a good day’s work. I’d like for them to be rewarded for their efforts. I’d like for them to think that the effort they’re putting in outside of getting better will be the reward of a win.”
Afterwards, Brown chose to look at the game from the half-full perspective. Yes, the Sixers lost for the 16th time in a row and the franchise-record tying 13th straight at home. However, the Sixers actually played in a close game for a change. Though they led by three to start the fourth quarter of the March 2 game in Orlando, the Sixers went 5 for 18 in the fourth quarter and lost by 11.
The last time the Sixers were within 10 points of an opponent with three minutes left in a game was the last time they played Utah on Feb. 12.
At this point, Brown will take victories anywhere he can find them.
“I think it helps a lot,” Brown said about his team actually playing in a close game. “We need to experience a close game and see who can bring us home.”
It’s not going to get much easier than it was Saturday night. Utah (22-41) came into the game riding a five-game losing streak in which the average margin of defeat was 17.8 points. Next, the Sixers go to New York to face the Knicks before returning home to face the Kings and Pacers.
What chance do they have? Maybe they can hope for a player to get a 24-hour flu or something.