The Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, in a game that probably still counts as something of a victory for the Sixers by virtue of not having been either a blow-out or a last-second embarrassment, as essentially all Clippers housecalls of the Brett Brown era have been. The Sixers played pretty well, Richaun Holmes had a career night (24 and 9), and even though the team probably has a better starting five in the injury ward than on the floor right now, the Clips didn't pull away until the final minutes, ultimately winning 112-100 and delivering the Ballers their seventh L in nine tries since returning from the All-Star break.
However, yesterday's outing was undoubtedly just a warm-up for the true test of tanking mettle lurking at the Staples Center for the Sixers this evening, when they face off with the Lakers in -- appropriately for a week in which Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen album turns 20 -- the season's most obvious Battle of Who Could Care Less.
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The Lakers, of course, still owe the Sixers a top-three protected pick for this season, and currently sit one ahead of the Suns in the win column for that No. 2 lottery slot. They don't want to transmit that pick this year -- if they do, not only do they lose a top-five pick, but they'll owe a 2019 first-rounder to Orlando that will otherwise dissolve into two second-rounders. And while the Sixers could certainly live with the pick carrying over to next season, where it becomes totally unprotected, they likely would still prefer it this year, in a loaded draft, and without risk of Magic's Men somehow figuring out how to be good (or at least competent) in time for next season. Considering the pick has an over-50% chance of falling outside the top three if the Lakers sit in that No. 3 slot -- and considering that Philly has no reason to want to win any more games for their own lottery considerations this year -- Sixers brass might be ever so slightly motivated to give this one away.
Process Trusters will no doubt be reminded of another such Great Moment in Tanking History that the Sixers found themselves at the center of just a couple seasons back, when the Miami Heat visited the Wells Fargo Center with potentially just a single win separating the draft pick they owed Philly from falling outside of their top-ten protection. Both teams started their B-squad, and it looked like we might be headed for a finish of unprecedented semi-purposeful incompetence -- but then the Pacers won and Miami's pick was safe, and the Heat could (and did) win the game with a clear conscience.
Of course that was the last game of the season, so with a month still to go in 2016-'17, tonight's efforts might not be so craven. But if Shawn Long ends up playing 20 minutes and Robert Covington sits with a bad toothache, try to at least act surprised. March Madness, here we come.