Sixers-Pistons Preview and Dreadful Armada DOUBLE FEATURE: Will the Streak Be Broken?

Behold! - Scott Halleran

There's a lot going on tonight, and almost everything Sixers-related involves the perverse incentives the draft and tanking can provide. So LB is covering it all.

The Sixers will compete in a "basketball game" against the Detroit Pistons while also "attempting to avoid" setting a record for the longest losing streak in major American professional sports history at 27 games. Meanwhile, the Pistons will "try to recover" from a 32-point loss and "try to win" their second road game in a row.

The quotation marks set the scene for this epic showdown. In reality, neither front office wants the team to win, and neither team is any good enough to draw positive attention. But in a year where neither team is competitive, the draft structure of major North American sports makes this game very important, possibly the most important game going forward for the Sixers this season.

After Thursday night's action, which included the Sixers' 26th consecutive loss (to Houston) and a Bucks victory over the hapless Lakers, the Sixers sit just one game ahead of the Bucks in the standings, one game behind in the tank ranks. If the Sixers lose out, the Bucks need only win one game for the Sixers to share the greatest odds of securing the number one overall pick in the NBA lottery. The Sixers and Bucks are virtually ensured of the bottom 2 places in the standings.

For the Pistons, the season winds down with a team meeting few preseason expectations. The Pistons were expected to compete for a mid-tier playoff spot. Even after curiously hiring Mo Cheeks as their coach this summer, the team looked good on paper. But the results have been disastrous, and the team fired Cheeks just part way through the year.

Now playing under an interim coach, with a GM on the hot seat, and roster proven to be mismatched that already seems to have quit on two coaches, the team should undergo an overhaul this summer. Adding a lottery selection via their terrible record seems like a solid plan - with Andre Drummond in the middle, the future may be bright. But they don't own their first round pick outright. Due to a salary dump trade from a couple of summers ago, which swapped once big names Corey Maggette and Ben Gordon, the Pistons only own their pick this season if the lottery results in a top 8 selection.

Which is to say, their draft pick protection pursuit resembles Golden State's tankathon in 2011-12 that's I've brought up in earlier renditions of the Dreadful Armada. I worried at one point that the same would happen with the Pelicans, but Anthony Davis is already just too good.

The Pistons have proven to be bad enough and careless enough to execute such a plan, and in addition they rarely play hard or together. They also employ maybe the best tanking weapon the NBA has ever seen: the Josh Smith jump shot.  The 2013-14 shot chart is Josh Smith's individual tanking masterpiece, a bricklayer's paradise, a work of art nearly as beautiful as the team-wide bottomless pit rendition Sam Hinkie executed so flawlessly. Let's visualize it, via Vorped.com's NBA shot zone function:

That's stunning. That no one has stopped Smith or tried to bench him for his shot selection would be the world's greatest mystery - except it's now in line with the organization's goal. Tanking is nothing if not world-reversing. Up is down, down is up, Sandra Bullock is probably still floating around somewhere but that's because her space is basically not confined, etc. The Pistons want to keep their pick and are largely capable of controlling their destiny and may completely lose their selection if they win too often. The Pistons somehow have more incentive to lose games than the Sixers do.

The Pistons play on the road on the back end of a SEGABABA (for the uninitiated - second game of a back to back). They couldn't muster enough effort for a home game against the defending champions last night to prevent a 32-point loss. Should we expect any more effort on tired legs tonight? I truly think this is, by far, the Sixers' best chance to win going forward. I've been on record since Thursday that the Sixers will win tonight and not break the tie for the longest losing streak in NBA/major sports history. Roy's with me, too. I should be in attendance tonight, and if the game's close, I won't be able to keep myself from cheering.

Meanwhile, the Bucks play against Miami tonight. I would pencil that in as a loss, even if the Bucks have been closer to mediocre than terrible recently. Ramon Sessions, fulfilling his destiny as a backup point guard who makes bad teams better in spite of the fans and his situation, has made them more respectable. But they get the Pistons next!

Detroit Bad Boys is similarly on tank watch. They know what's up. The Sixers will be wearing blue jerseys, and game will start at the typical 7:30 EDT start time for the Saturday home game. Tune in to watch a "basketball game" and, more importantly, potentially witness "history."

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