Breaking Down Philadelphia 76ers' 20-Game Losing Streak by the Numbers

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 12:  Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers talks with Michael Carter-Williams #1 during the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Wells Fargo Center on March 12, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

What's deliberately bad, virtually unwatchable and approaching new levels of dreadful?

The Philadelphia 76ers. The tank-tastic Philadelphia 76ers.

Losers of 20 straight, it's been asked if the Sixers will win again this season. Not jokingly, but seriously. They've been that bad, tanking that obviously.

No team can lose what would be 36 games in a row, though, right?



Initially difficult to imagine, it's possible. And if the Sixers' performance over their last 20 games is any indication, it's likely.


Ugly Struggles

The current losing streak itself is not unprecedented, just horrible.

Ten other teams have lost 20 or more consecutive games in NBA history. Hell, the Sixers dropped 20 straight in 1973, so this isn't even the absolute worst losing streak in franchise history.


One more loss, and the Sixers will become just the seventh team in NBA history to fall in 21 or more consecutive games. That loss seems likely, if not guaranteed, given Philly's next opponent is the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers.

One more loss also brings them within six of the worst losing streak in league history, which was set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, who dropped 26 in a row after losing a certain someone to the Miami Heat (thanks, LeBron).

If nothing else, that's slightly encouraging. Cleveland drafted Kyrie Irving first overall that summer, and the rest is sub-mediocre history. If the ultimate goal is selecting Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or someone else this summer, the Sixers are losing right on schedule.

But that's getting ahead of the game. There's no guarantee the Sixers keep losing and losing and losing and losing. Even the worst NBA teams win sometimes—you know, unless they're playing like the Sixers currently are.

Mar 15, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Ed Davis (32) grabs rebound over Philadelphia 76ers guard Tony Wroten (8), guard Michael Carter-Williams (1), and forward Thaddeus Young (21) during the first half at Wells Fargo Center. Manda
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Since Jan. 31, when the losing streak first started, the Sixers rank dead last in offensive efficiency, according to (subscription required), scoring just 91.6 points per 100 possessions. For additional context, consider no team has ever gone an entire season while posting an offensive rating below 92.

Defensively, they haven't been much better. They're allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions during their losing streak, the league's second-worst mark behind only the Milwaukee Bucks (112.1).

That leaves the Sixers at minus-19 points per 100 possessions, more than double that of their closest challengers, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, who have registered a minus-8.4 since Jan. 31.

Sixteen of the team's 20 losses have come by double digits. Each of the 20 follies has also come by at least five points, which is a record by itself:

Yes, that's 20-successive-plastic-surgeries-gone-wrong ugly. And no, there isn't an end in sight.


More Struggles

Mar 15, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) and guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) sit on the bench late in the fourth quarter of loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at Wells Fargo Center. The Grizzlies defeated the 76ers,
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For there to be an end in sight, there has to be something worth getting excited about. The Sixers are offering no such thing.

Here's a look at how they're faring in various others areas of the game, along with their corresponding league rank during this time:

How to Lose 76ers Style
Sixers' Last 2041.028.172.640.420.318.249.947.727.0
League Rank last 20303027242430302930


There are very few categories, if any, in which the Sixers aren't in the bottom five or 10. While expected of a team purposely in disarray, it's still incredible—incredibly bad.

Individual performances haven't been particularly encouraging, either.

Only one player—Tony Wroten—has appeared in more than half of Philly's last 20 losses and is also shooting over 45 percent from the field. Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams is converting just 39 percent of his shots, and leading scorer Thaddeus Young is putting in only 43.1 percent.

Worse still, the Sixers now take their putrid attack on a brutal seven-game stretch that doesn't offer the promise of even one competitive game, let alone a possible victory:

And so, the question remains: Will the Sixers win again this season?


Zero Is the Loneliest Number

Mar 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks with guard Tony Wroten (8) and guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) during the second quarter against the Sacramento Kings at the Wells Fargo Center. The Kings defeated the
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Zero. That's the number that matters most in Philly.

At 15-51, the Sixers have won 22.7 percent of their games this season. By that math, they should win between three and four of their next 16 games.

Spoiler: That's not going to happen.

Before this losing streak began, the Sixers were a surprising 15-31, worlds better than many experts predicted. They weren't the team people thought would rival the 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats from 2011-12.

With their previous record, they were projected to win 11 or 12 of their final 36 games, yet they're 0-20 since.

Back when the Sixers had lost just 18 in a row—you know, the good ol' days—SB Nation's Tom Ziller used  Bill James' Log5 method, which estimates the probability of "Team A" winning at any given game, to predict whether Philly would win again this season.

The results weren't pretty:

If the Sixers are really right now a .039 team, I mean, my God. This actually breaks Bill James' Log5 method for estimating single-game win probabilities in some cases. It's too low. For example, plugging in the Sixers as a .039 team gives them a -3.6 percent probability of beating the Pacers in Indiana. I mean, that actually sounds right, but ... you know, you can't have a negative probability of winning a game. The worst you can have is a 0 percent probability of winning a game.

So I went through and set any games in which the .039 Sixers had a negative win probability to zero, and ran Log5 for the rest of the season. The results: the Sixers are expected to win one more game, with a 29 percent probability of losing them all.

Philly's superfluous losing basically broke the equation. 

No one can say the Sixers will continue blanking the win column through this season with absolute certainty. But on a team that boasts inexperienced youngsters and career role players, eight of which have spent time in the NBA's Development League, it's possible. 

That seven-game stretch ahead is just the beginning. Of their final 16 games, 12 come against current playoff teams. The last time the Sixers beat one of the 16 presently postseason-bound contingents was Jan. 15, when they took down Charlotte.

Nine of their 16 remaining games also come opposite teams above .500; Philly is 6-27 against above-.500 factions this season. In fact, the Sixers haven't defeated one of the NBA's 15 winning teams since Jan. 4, when they squeaked by the Portland Trail Blazers.

Put simply, Philly has forgotten how to win. It's not built to win.

Feb 10, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown speaks to point guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Ph
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner were shipped out at the trade deadline to make the Sixers even worse, and they are worse. A lot worse. They're terrible. So much so, we keep coming back to zero, the number that is defining Philly's horrific season with each passing loss.

"But we don't want sympathy," Sixers coach Brett Brown said, via's Keith Pompey. "We don't want 'Woe is me.' Life's good. We've just got to bide time and retain a level of patience."

One win. The Sixers are searching, patiently waiting for one win and something, anything to build upon. But at this rate, that something, that win, may not come. Not before they lose a league-record 27 straight games. 

Not even before they carry this losing streak into next season.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and (subscription required).


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