Both the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers are making history this year but for entirely different reasons. The Warriors’ 18-0 record is the best start to a season in NBA history while the 0-18 76ers just tied the worst start. Bryan Lambert and Peter Harasyko debate whether the Warriors will lose first or the 76ers will win first.
Bryan: As terrible as the Sixers are, my money is on the Warriors to lose first. As great as their start has been, there are still question marks that will make it hard for them to maintain this pace.
Lost in the historic start and Steph Curry’s league-wide takeover are the struggles of the second splash brother, Klay Thompson. Thompson has been battling a back injury early in the season and his numbers have suffered because of it. Thompson is averaging some of the worst numbers of his career since his rookie year.
The Warriors have not only been able to survive but thrive during Thompson’s struggles because the players around him have been able to help shoulder the load. That’s not always going to be possible. Harrison Barnes is now expected to miss time with an ankle sprain and Steph Curry is going to have some nights when his pull-ups from 10 feet outside the arc aren’t falling.
The chinks in the armor are going to start to show.
Pete: The Sixers may be bad, but their 18-game losing streak to start the season could end as soon as tonight, when they welcome the hapless Lakers to town in what might be the most pitiful match of the year to date. However, the Sixers have been playing better of late. While they haven’t managed to pull out a win, they’ve found themselves with leads in the fourth quarter.
They lost games by five points to the Heat and the Timberwolves, they lost by four to the Celtics after holding a lead in the fourth quarter, they lost by two to James Harden and the Rockets, and were within five points of the Grizzlies with under a minute to go before free throws pushed the deficit to eight. Meanwhile the Lakers have only been in one close game since their last win on November 15. The Sixers have as good of a chance at ending the streak tonight as they’ve had all season.
Bryan: There is a special factor going into tomorrow’s game. It will be Kobe Bryant’s last game in his hometown. This is the city he was drafted out of and came into his own as a basketball player. If there is any game that Kobe is going to turn back the clock it’s Tuesday.
After the Lakers, the Sixers’ next best chance to get a win is a Dec. 10 game against Brooklyn. As terrible as the Nets are, they still have one of the best big men in the game in Brook Lopez. Jahlil Okafor, for all his potential, has yet to learn how to play defense at the NBA level. I don’t feel comfortable picking Philly against either Los Angeles or Brooklyn. And if they don’t beat those teams who are they going to beat?
The Warriors have games against the Raptors and the Pacers looming. Two solid playoff teams. With Thompson still struggling and Barnes on the mend the Warriors are as vulnerable as any 18-0 team can be.
Peter: Kobe has yet to “turn back the clock” once this season, and at this point, it doesn’t look like he will any time in the near future. In fact, the night he announced his retirement, he opened with 2-15 shooting and limped his way to a 4-20 stat line for 13 points. He’s barely shooting 30 percent from the floor, and I don’t think he’ll be able to elevate his game even against the Sixers.
Meanwhile, the Sixers have the best offensive rookie in the league in Okafor, who compensates for his lack of elite defense by scoring 17.5 points and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per game. The Sixers have other pieces as well. Robert Covington is back off an injury, and can harass the league’s best players with his pesky defense. Though he hasn’t played enough games to qualify among stat leaders, he would be leading the league with 3.6 steals per game.
Let’s not overlook the Sixers’ schedule between the Lakers and Nets games either. If they don’t beat the Lakers, the Sixers then face the Knicks, who are in the midst of a four-game slide of their own. While the Knicks are greatly improved from last year, they’re far from perfect, and should definitely be wary of the Sixers. Philly takes on Denver on Dec. 5. The Nuggets have lost six straight, and have nights where they simply cannot score.
The Warriors are about to embark on a seven-game road trip and I believe their impressive run will end during that stretch. However, I think the Sixers will manage to steal a game during a relatively soft part of their schedule before any team can conquer Steph Curry and his red-hot Warriors team.
Bryan: I just don’t see a scenario anytime soon where Okafor and Nerlens Noel get enough help.
The 76ers backcourt is cartoonish bad. We live in world where TJ McConnell can get 30 minutes of playing time a night. Undrafted out of Arizona, McConnell is averaging 6.8 points per game. McConnell has proven he deserves a spot in the NBA, but it’s criminal that general manager Sam Hinkie has assembled a roster where he’s the best point guard.
And then there is Nik Stauskas who is somehow managing to play worse than he did last year. The former eighth overall pick was a disappointment in Sacramento and his field goal, free throw and three point shooting percentage have only dipped with more playing time.
Denver is in the midst of a poor season but the last four games you mentioned were against the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs and Mavericks. Four of the Western Conference’s elite. Plus, at least they have a legitimate NBA-caliber starting five. The same cant be said for Philadelphia.
As for the Knicks, Derek Fisher could run the point for them and I would still feel comfortable betting against the 76ers.
No team wants to be the one to lose to the 76ers. Everybody wants to be the one to beat the Warriors. Both teams are going to be getting their opponents best. I trust that the team that is built to lose will continue to do that.
The odds are stacked against the Warriors to continue to set history.