The Philadelphia 76ers haven't won since January 29. The losing streak is up to 18, just eight behind the NBA record of 26. The Sixers have 18 games left. There have been murmurs for a couple of weeks now that the Sixers might not win again this season, but it seemed like an impossible joke. After being drubbed by the Jazz, Knicks and Kings over the past five days, nothing seems impossible.
What are the odds that the Sixers could end the season on a 36-game losing streak?
The key question: how bad are they?
To do a math-based assessment of the chances for a 36-game losing streak, we need to determine just how bad the Sixers really are at this point. Remember: on February 20, Philly traded three of its few legitimate NBA players -- Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner -- for basically nothing. So this team is, right now, worse than the 15-49 record it boasts. The Sixers are 0-9 since the trade deadline and are being outscored by 17.6 points per 100 possessions.
If we use that number -- the -17.6 points per 100 possessions -- we can determine that the team is a .039 club. Or, a team that would go 3-79 over a full season. That's three times worse than the worst teams ever. The Sixers are bad ... but that historically bad? Probably not. The worst team ever, those 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats from two years ago, had a .106 winning percentage. Are the Sixers currently that bad? I think it's safe to say that yes, they are.
So let's figure it out both ways: if the Sixers are as bad as their post-deadline performance indicates and if they are only as bad as the worst team ever.
As bad as the worst team ever
If the Sixers are only as bad as the 2011-12 Bobcats, then Philly is expected to win two more games out of the 18 remaining to finish 17-65. Assuming that the Sixers are that good, there's a 13 percent probability of the team losing all of its remaining games.
But of course, that's the macro look. The Sixers won't be expected to win any one of their games -- their highest win probability in any given game remaining, assuming they are Bobcats Bad, is a home game against the Pistons on March 29 or a home game against the Celtics on April 14. Philly has just a 26 percent probability of winning either of those games, though.
What it boils down to is that while it is unlikely that the Sixers will win any given night, it's likely they will beat the odds at least one of those nights, making the 36-game streak look out of reach.
They are really as bad as they have been lately
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.
The dream is alive.
More on the 76ers
More on the 76ers
The futility record
What about the Cavs' record losing streak? If the Sixers are really a .039 team, there's a 47 percent probability that Philadelphia loses its next nine games and claims a record 27-game losing streak. If the Sixers are a .106 team, the probability of breaking the record is 15 percent. So cross those fingers, Sixers fans who want their team to accomplish something historic this season.
Meanwhile, the Bucks ...
I imagine that Sixers fans mostly care about whether Philly will finish below the Bucks in the final standings, giving their squad the best shot at the No. 1 pick and a guaranteed top-four choice. Good news: Milwaukee has a rather cake schedule to finish the season. Log5 projects Milwaukee to win five more games this season.
If the Bucks win five and the Sixers win two, Philly would finish with the worst record in the NBA at 17-65, one game worse than the 18-64 Bucks. (The third-worst team in the league, the Magic, already have 19 wins.) Philadelphia needs Milwaukee to win three more games than the Sixers do the rest of the way to grab the worst record free and clear. To ensure it happens, the Sixers probably need to win no more than two games out of the last 18.
This is the saddest must-watch drama ever.