They have the look of such favorites that Las Vegas likes them twice this week, once while on a back-to-back and the other time on the road.
Weren’t these Philadelphia 76ers supposed to be tanking?
The team that was widely expected to be the NBA’s biggest loser — perhaps as part of a plan to sacrifice the present for the future — hasn’t been quite so bad lately. Or maybe the Sixers just aren’t bad enough.
Maybe they are being out-tanked by the New York Knicks, who have been better at being the worst.
Or, as coaches swear, maybe tanking just isn’t happening.
“I think that more than anything, coaches and managers don’t go to players and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to tank. Let’s go lose this game,'” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Players aren’t going to buy that. You don’t do that. I don’t think anybody does that. You go play the games and you do your best to win. So I don’t think it has a purpose.”
The purpose would be to secure good draft position to build with youth, the route chosen by the 76ers (18-56). But while they wait for May’s draft lottery, they’ve been playing hard and improving, nearly winning at Cleveland on Sunday. They are favored to beat the Lakers (19-53) on Monday and are projected as 3 1/2-point favorites Sunday at New York (14-60), according to RJ Bell of the website Pregame.com.
Not bad for a team that was the underdog for 99 straight games before its 97-81 victory over the Knicks on March 20.
Still, the negative attention on the Sixers’ plans has influenced Commissioner Adam Silver’s stance on tanking. He insisted last year there was no evidence it was happening, but now says the lottery system needs another look and perhaps a tweak because of the perception that it was.
Given how things have worked out for Popovich’s team after it won the lottery and got Tim Duncan in 1997, it would be hard to blame any team for trying to boost its odds for getting the No. 1 pick if it thinks there’s a franchise player in the draft.
The Knicks, nearing the end of their worst season ever, say that’s not what they are doing.
“You can’t practice losing,” coach Derek Fisher said, “so if at any point you embrace losing, I don’t think that works out very well for you.”
Here are some things to watch this week:
LOOKING BACK: Surging San Antonio returns Tuesday to Miami for the first time since victories in Games 3 and 4 of last year’s NBA Finals put the Spurs on the verge of the championship it wrapped up in Game 5 at home.
AND LOOKING AHEAD: Chicago-Milwaukee on Wednesday, and Miami-Cleveland on Thursday shape up as playoff previews based on the current Eastern Conference standings.
ROSE’S RECOVERY: Derrick Rose could make the next step in his recovery from knee surgery, as he could be cleared for contact. He’s still hoping to return this season.
TAKING THEIR SHOW ON THE ROAD: NBA-leading Golden State’s three road games this week are at the Clippers, then a back-to-back in Texas against Dallas and San Antonio. Those teams are a combined 81-30 at home.
RACE FOR EIGHTH: Boston, Charlotte and Indiana all play multiple games this week against the teams they are battling for the final playoff spot in the East, giving somebody the chance to seize control of the race. So far, nobody has.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Dar Tucker, Reno: 20 of 35 from the field, 11 of 22 from 3-point range, 58 points, 12 rebounds. The guard for the high-scoring Bighorns tied the NBA Development League single-game scoring record in a 161-127 victory over Texas on Saturday night.
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