By getting smoked in most of their losses, the 0-11 Philadelphia 76ers are inviting all kinds of questions, none of them being very good.
Two of the big ones are:
1. Will the Sixers set the NBA record for a season’s worth of futility? The league’s all-time low for wins in a season is nine, by the 1972-73 Sixers.
2. Would Kentucky, the best college team in the United States, boasting nine McDonald’s All-Americans and coming off a 32-point thrashing of Kansas, defeat the Sixers if they met on the court?
Answers to those questions figure to be on everyone’s mind in the Garden on Saturday night when the Sixers rumble up the New Jersey Turnpike to play the Knicks for the first time this season.
The Sixers play the 7-5 Suns tonight in Philly, so there’s a very good chance they’ll still be looking for their first victory of the season on Saturday.
The Sixers are as bad as their record indicates. Maybe worse. They’ve been losing by an average of almost 17 points per game, far and away the largest margin for any of the 30 NBA teams.
Then again, no team is younger or more inexperienced in the entire NBA. The Sixers’ roster has an average age younger than 24 and only 1.5 seasons of NBA experience.
It’s gotten to the point where teams are circling the Sixers on their schedule because it’s the one team no one wants to lose to.
“You don’t want to be that guy, or, in this case, you don’t want to be that team,” Celtics playmaker Rajon Rondo told reporters after the Celtics escaped Philly the other night with a 101-90 win. “So we’re glad this is over and we avoided being the first team they were able to get a win on.’’
There’s no telling when the Sixers will finally break through. Just a friendly reminder, the record for the longest losing streak to start a season came in 2009-10, when the Nets lost their first 18 games.
The Sixers have a chance to break that record, as they continue losing at an alarming rate. It’s all part of their master plan to rebuild the team with the highest draft picks possible. But even as they tank away, losing as much as they can, they still have yet to win the draft lottery and come away with the No. 1 overall pick.
“I don’t know if they have five NBA-quality players on their roster,’’ one veteran NBA personnel man told me this week. “They’ve taken tanking to a new low. It’s like they’re thumbing their nose at the rules. No one will be surprised if they don't win nine games.’’
But they’re still playing by the rules, even if it hardly looks good for the franchise or the NBA. As bad as things are, they lost in Houston by only one point, and two of their recent home losses, to Orlando and Chicago, were by a combined five points. So coach Brett Brown has them playing hard. But lacking proven talent, they ended the week ranked last in shooting (40.2 percent) and free throw shooting (64.3 percent).
"I've got no complaints with what we do," Brown told reporters after the loss to Boston. "They bang out good days. It's just, they're not getting rewarded in the win column. That's the judgment most people look at, which is fair. It's pro sports."
There is a college twist to the Sixers' abysmal start. Everyone wants to know whether Kentucky’s juggernaut could beat Philly. Just the other day the undefeated Wildcats manhandled Kansas on a neutral court, holding the Jayhawks to 40 points on 19 percent shooting in a 72-40 romp.
On Thursday, Jeff Sherman of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, tweeted that if the Sixers played Kentucky, he’d still make the Sixers a whopping 17-point favorite.
What does Wildcats coach John Calipari have to say? While he’s amassed more talent, size, length and athleticism than any other college program, he admits that they’re still only college kids.
The Sixers, meanwhile, are pros. As Calipari reminded everyone when he tweeted, "If we played ANY NBA team, we would get buried. ANY.’’
Even the lowly Sixers? Former Kentucky player Eric Bledsoe, now starring for the Phoenix Suns, said on Sirius XM Radio that if there were a seven-game series between the two teams, “I would definitely take Kentucky. I think Philly would maybe probably get one game."
But the Sixers’ Tony Wroten, who has been in the NBA since 2012, with Memphis and Philadelphia, told Philly reporters that there would be a different outcome.
“They can’t beat us,’’ Wroten said, and then referring to Bledsoe, “He’s crazy.’’
But seeing how bad the Sixers are, maybe not as crazy as one would think.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 21 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.