PHILADELPHIA (AP) — They are a loss away from becoming the Philadelphia 26ers.
As in, losers of 26 in a row.
A skid that would match the longest losing streak in NBA history and leave the 76ers one loss of holding the record for the four major professional sports.
"It's tough we lose them consecutively, but it's the NBA," guard Tony Wroten said. "You play another day."
With a another loss Thursday at Houston, the Sixers (15-56) will tie the NBA record of 26 straight losses set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. The potential record setter is Saturday at home against Detroit.
But the 76ers say this seemingly infinite skid comes with a purpose: Finishing first.
Philadelphia is losing to win the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Former Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is among the critics that call Philly's style of lottery-bound losing, tanking. Sixers management simply says it's old-fashioned rebuilding. Whatever the label, the team with the worst record in the NBA has a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick.
But there's a flaw in the Sixers' plan: Even with the avalanche of defeats, they still don't have the worst record in the NBA, Milwaukee does. Entering Thursday, the Bucks are 13-58 and that puts them in the driver's seat as they plummet toward the top spot.
The Bucks may be serving as motivation for the Sixers; there's no suspense these days in the outcome of Philadelphia games. The Sixers been outscored by 16.9 points during the losing streak; Cleveland was outscored by 13.7 while setting the record.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said the Sixers will be better off as a result of the losing.
"It's those short-term, real pains for what we hope will be a bunch of long-term gains," Brown said. "This period of time is not pleasant for any of us. But it's necessary."
But it's a hefty price to pay.
"Nobody wants to have that record," said Cavs forward Anderson Varejao, a member of the Cleveland squad that lost 26 straight. "It is what it is. If they get it, it's too bad for them. It's a tough time and it's not easy. I don't even think they think about how many games they've lost.
"It's just one of those things where you go out to win and you end up losing."
The Sixers last won on Jan. 29 on former guard Evan Turner's buzzer-beater at Boston. They've been crushed (123-78 by the Clippers and 123-80 by Golden State in consecutive games) and had a few close calls (losing 93-92 to the Knicks). And this week they were called out by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said the losing streak was "bad for everyone."
"It's potentially damaging to the players involved and the culture they're trying to create," Silver said, "but those decisions are left to management."
Mired in mediocrity for most of the last decade, first-year general manager Sam Hinkie decided to start from scratch, trading assets for draft picks all in the hope that the Sixers can build a winner from within. Hinkie started on draft night, when he traded All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel. In February, he dealt starters Turner and Spencer Hawes, and Lavoy Allen at the trade deadline.
The 76ers went 0 for February. They are three losses away from 0 for March.
These aren't the '62 Mets. The Sixers are more laughable losers, than lovable.
Team owners Joshua Harris and Dave Blitzer, who also own the New Jersey Devils, have sold hope to the disenfranchised fanbase with the "Together We Build" slogan. Fed-up fans, though, have had more fun with the Twitter feed @didthesixerswin.
"There's not a person in this organization that doesn't have a will to win, that isn't competitive, that doesn't feel sick to their stomach after a loss," team CEO Scott O'Neil said. "That goes for me, and Sam and Coach, Josh, David. Everyone involved with the organization.
"We signed up for this, we can get through this together. But it doesn't make it any easier. It doesn't."
The Sixers are closing in on setting the longest losing streak in sports history. According to STATS LLC, the longest streaks in the four major sports are held by:
— In the NBA, the Cavaliers, 26 losses in row, from Dec. 20, 2010-Feb. 9, 2011.
— In the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 26 losses in row, from Sept. 12, 1976-Dec. 4 1977.
— In MLB, the Philadelphia Phillies, 23 losses in a row, from Jan. 29, 1961-Aug. 20, 1961.
— In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 18 losses in a row, from Jan. 13, 2004-Feb. 22, 2004.
The 76ers' skid is the latest example of Philadelphia's sports futility.
The Phillies hold the longest losing streak in major league history and were the first team to lose 10,000 games. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl and haven't won an NFL championship since 1960. The Flyers are closing in on four decades without a Stanley Cup.
Though it's hard to remember now, but the Sixers started the season 3-0, featuring wins over Miami and Chicago. Now, with a gutted roster made up of mostly D-League castoffs and 10-day contract hopefuls, the 76ers face the bleak reality they might not win again this season.
The Sixers, however, will be remembered if they notch their 26th loss in a row.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report