On Nov. 29, 2015, the Philadelphia 76ers lost their 28th straight game. It was a losing streak that took so long, it took two seasons to get there. Mercifully, the streak ended the next game … and then they lost the next 12.
The Sixers stood at 1-30, the laughing stock of the league and the poster boys for tanking. Sam Hinkie, the author of “The Process” and the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations, was put in an awkward spot in the middle of the second losing streak: Jerry Colangelo was hired as chairman of basketball operations. Hinkie eventually resigned in April and was replaced by Colangelo’s son, Bryan.
Fast forward to last Wednesday — a mere 864 days after that losing streak ended — and the Sixers had won their 16th straight game with a 130-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, making Philly the hottest team in the league headed into the playoffs. Their 52 wins on the season was the most the franchise had won since 2000-01, when the Sixers made it to the NBA Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The strength of this team is so deep,” Robert Covington told Paul Newberry of the Associated Press. “We’re doing it without Joel, so imagine once we get the head honcho back. He’s definitely going to be ecstatic. There wasn’t really much of a drop-off. We just played a little bit differently. We’ll be glad once he gets back. We just have to hold it down until he gets back.”
Embiid’s absences due to surgery adds to the mystique of what the Sixers are doing. They’re clobbering teams without the man who has become the literal poster boy for the Sixers’ rebuilding efforts, to the point that his nickname is “The Process.”
Since Feb. 6, Philadelphia closed out the regular season 27-5 with a plus-11.3 net rating. Over the 16-game winning streak that finished off the season, they were plus-15.3. Since Embiid went down, they trailed a total of 36 minutes and had only been down by more than five points once. They’ve led by 11 or more points for 431 of 936 total minutes that they’ve played with Embiid on the sidelines.
We saw how dominant this group can be, sans Embiid, on Saturday, when they throttled the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their postseason series. Philadelphia won, 130-103, behind an all-out blitz of the Heat’s defense from deep. The Sixers connected on 18 of their 28 attempts from behind the arc and put the clamps on Miami in the game’s second half.