By Connor Thomas
The Sixers have been in a rough stretch for over a week now, and it’s really through no fault of their own. The roster has been ravaged by COVID, and the protocols have kept the team significantly shorthanded for at least the past 6 games. It’s a very unfortunate turn of events for a team that came out of the gates as hot as anyone in basketball, but nonetheless, it is one that the Sixers will have to live with and overcome as the season progresses. The question now, as they slog through a tough West Coast road trip and try and return to full health, is how big of a hurdle will this stretch be to overcome. There’s only so much stock to be put into November NBA results, but the stats show that this may not be a blip on the radar when it comes to the Sixers’ long term success.
The Sixers have now lost 5 games in a row, and it’s the first time they’ve done that since December of 2017. The result of that season was a 2nd round gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, but that team wasn’t as good as the Sixers’ 2nd round teams of 2020 and 2018. If they lose tonight to the Denver Nuggets, who are 8 point favorites, it will be the first 6 game losing streak for the Sixers since 2016, when Joel Embiid was a rookie and playing on a significant minutes restriction. So, what would a streak of this length mean for Philly’s “contendership”? Well, of the last 10 NBA Finals Champions, only 2 teams lost at least 5 games straight: the 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks and the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are the only team since 2011 to have lost 6 straight games and gone on to win the NBA Finals. They also had losing streaks of 4 and 3 games over the course of their championship run, lending some hope to the Sixers prospects, but every other team that won a Finals since 2011 never lost more than 4 games in a row.
Consistency truly is the hallmark of a champion in the NBA, where the great teams are more dominant than maybe any other sports’ champions. That being said, the past few seasons have had a very obvious anomaly when compared to other NBA seasons: COVID-19. In the two seasons affected by COVID, the champions (Lakers ’19-’20, Bucks ’20-21) had losing streaks of 4 or more games. No finals winning team from 2012-2018 had a losing streak of over 3 games. The rising losing streaks show the variability that COVID protocols and shortened seasons have brought to the NBA. Even though the Sixers are in mostly uncharted waters when it comes to a championship hopeful team, the outside factors that exist as a result of the pandemic are proving to make this more of a normal occurrence.
So, how much trouble are the Sixers really in? The fact is that we can’t really determine that right now, which is a good thing. Most of the time, when a team is not a true contender it becomes very clear that they just aren’t in the same discussion as the teams truly vying for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The fact that there is no definite answer as to the hit that the Sixers’ season has taken as a result of this stretch probably means that they’ll be fine in the long run. That being said, though, they’ll have to pull out of this stretch fast. They’re currently the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, on the edge of being out of a playoff spot. There is still plenty of time to go in the season, but the hole that the Sixers are in is deepening every day. Hopefully the team is healthy and back to the level of play that we saw in the first 2 weeks of the season sooner rather than later.