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NBA PM: Longest NBA Losing Streaks

The Philadelphia 76ers’ losing streak is officially among the five longest ever, but which teams have topped them?… Isaiah Thomas thought he would be a Los Angeles Laker

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Longest NBA Losing Streaks Ever

The Philadelphia 76ers will play the New York Knicks on Friday night for what could be their 23rd straight loss, an atrocious number that, while ugly, is still a ways away from the worst losing streak ever. They’ve still got a little “work” to do if they want to take sole ownership of the most dismal streak ever, but while we all wait to see when the next win comes for the Sixers, here’s a look at the longest losing streaks in NBA history:

#5 – 2013-2014 Philadelphia 76ers – 22 games – The Sixers haven’t won a game since January, and since they’re basically trotting out a D-League team every night, there doesn’t look to be much relief in sight. Trading away Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes certainly didn’t help anything, but this is a rough-looking group apparently doing everything they can to earn the most ping-pong balls for this spring’s lottery.

#4 – 1995-1996 Vancouver Grizzlies – 23 games – Expansion teams are supposed to be bad, but a single-season 23-game losing streak in the Grizzlies’ first campaign came dangerously close to being historically bad. While the team did have five guys average double-figures that season, only one topped 14 PPG (Greg Anthony), and the Grizzlies only managed a scant 15 wins all season. Despite all that, the low point was definitely spending over a quarter of the season doing nothing but losing.

#3 – 1997-1998 Denver Nuggets – 23 games – This 11-win team not only posted the second-lowest regular season win total in league history (only two losses away from tying the record), but until 2011 they also held the record for longest single-season losing streak in NBA history. LaPhonso Ellis was arguably the team’s best all-around player that year, if that helps put into perspective just how rough things were for Denver basketball fans in the late ‘90s.

#2 – 1981-1982 and 1982-1983 Cleveland Cavaliers – 24 games – Cleveland had a couple of players top 20 PPG in 1981-1982, but scoring doesn’t always equate to wins—a fact that was never made more clear than when Mike Mitchell and Ron Brewer led the charge in kicking off the second-most embarrassing losing streak of all time. The next season Cliff Robinson got healthy and the Cavs added World B. Free, which was enough to snap the streak pretty early on in 1982-1983, but despite that, these two seasons resulted in a combined 38 wins.

But if you thought these Cavaliers were bad, hold onto your seats because it gets worse:

#1 – 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavaliers – 26 games – Back in 2010, Cleveland was reeling in the wake of losing LeBron James to the Miami HEAT, and the results were not pretty. No other team in NBA history has won 40 games one year only to lose 40 games the next, and at one point Cleveland had won only a single game in 37 tries. The Chicago Bulls were pretty bad the year after Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan retired, but they weren’t quite this bad. Apparently losing LeBron is a much bigger blow.

Honorable Mention

1979-1980 & 1980-1981 Detroit Pistons;– 21 games – The Pistons group saw their historic losing streak spread over the course of a couple seasons, but it was the 1979-1980 group, which won only 16 games, that proved responsible for the majority of those consecutive losses. This streak was broken by October of 1980, but having to wait an entire summer to even have a chance to snap it must have been a real treat for Pistons fans.

1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers – 20 games – This was the infamous Philly team that managed to lose a record 73 games in a season, so it’s no real surprise that they’re somewhere on this list. Mathematically, they almost had to be.

1993-1994 Dallas Mavericks – 20 games – In 1992-1993, the Mavericks won only 11 games, but it was the following year (when they won 13) that proved awful enough to push them into a 20-game losing streak. At least all those bad games netted them Jason Kidd in that summer’s draft, and things got markedly better after that.

1984-1985 & 1985-1986 New York Knicks – 20 games – The 1985 Knicks finished their season on a 12-game losing streak, which was enough to land Patrick Ewing in the league’s first-ever draft lottery later in the spring. It took Ewing a couple weeks to get his first professional win, though, as that 12-game streak extended to 20 in the early part of Ewing’s prolific NBA career.

1993-1994 & 1994-1995 L.A. Clippers – 20 games – Most of the blame for this one falls on the shoulders of Loy Vaught, Lamond Murray and the rest of this disappointing 1994-1995 Clippers squad that won only 17 games, because this streak was non-story the previous season, which ended on a non-newsworthy four-game skid.

With four more straight losses, the Sixers can top the all-time mark for futility, set only a few years ago by Cleveland, but as bad as they want to land a good pick in June’s draft, they probably don’t want to find themselves at the top of this list for the next several years.

However they finish up the season, this has not been a good year for the Sixers, but we knew that would be the case heading into the campaign. It wasn’t clear that things would be quite this bad, but after that deadline fire sale anything was possible. “Anything,” in this case, appears to be setting the record for longest losing streak in league history.

Isaiah Thomas Thought He’d Be a Laker

The story about Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas being “Mr. Irrelevant,” the 60th and final selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, is pretty well-documented, because while second-round picks having success in the league is nothing new, eventual starters taken that late are considerably more rare.

Only 5’9, Thomas was recognized by several NBA scouts as being undeniably talented, but his height kept him from being selected sooner. Despite that, Thomas headed into that draft feeling confident he’d be drafted, though his stomach dropped as picks in the 50s kept rattling off and his name still wasn’t called.

“I think the Lakers had four second-round picks, and after their last pick (58th overall), that’s when it hit me that I might not get drafted,” Thomas said. “I had a good workout with them, and they had talked to me about their need at the point guard position.”

He waited out the second round in the gym that night, hoisting up jumpers to occupy himself and keep his nerves at bay, but when it became clear that the Lakers thing wasn’t going to happen, he allowed himself to sulk, accepting what he believed was the inevitable.

“Once it started getting later in the draft I headed home,” Thomas explained. “My mom called me and she was like, ‘Are you alright?’ I said no. She said, ‘Just remember everything happens for a reason.’ That was around the 56-57th pick.

“Then my agent had called me and told me. I actually had forgotten all about Sacramento; that was my first workout. When they said they were going to pick me, I was just happy. Like I told everybody else, all I wanted was a chance. I didn’t care if I was drafted the first pick or the last pick like I was. I just wanted a chance, and I got that chance with the Sacramento Kings.”

And has he ever made the most of that opportunity. Thomas is currently averaging 20.6 PPG for the Kings (17th in the NBA) and 6.4 APG (11th in the NBA), and while the Kings are still losing a lot of games, he feels like the group is on the right track and is optimistic about what the future will bring in Sacramento.

“We have the talent to be a playoff team, I think everybody knows that,” Thomas said. “We can compete with anyone in the NBA. It’s about putting the effort each and every night and knowing that this team is going to play their heart out and defend and do the things that they can control.”

Doing the things he can control is what got Thomas here in the first place, and he hopes that rubs off on his teammates as the team continues its struggle to make it back into the perennial playoff picture.

“I just keep fighting and keep working hard,” he said. “Every chance that I got and every opportunity that I got I just take it and take advantage of it. Whether it is the last five minutes of a blowout or at the beginning of the game, whatever it may have been I just took advantage of every opportunity.

“When my name was called to become a starter I didn’t look back. That’s how my whole life has been. I’m always about the next opportunity.”

The next opportunity for the Kings is some more wins, but as hard as this season has been for them, it certainly could have been a whole lot harder had they not gambled on the tiny guard from Washington with their last pick a few years ago. If they can strike that kind of gold with their lottery pick this year, they’ll be well on their way to massive improvements.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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