The Sixers lost Monday night. They shot an embarrassing 55 percent from the foul line; Tony Wroten missed six straight free throws. “As hard as I try not to, it is in my head, I work so hard and they trust me to make free throws,” the career 62 percent free throw shooter said. Evan Turner got a technical foul for arguing with an official with 2:54 left and the Sixers down six. “I saw two of my teammates get their lips split,” the team’s leading scorer said. The Sixers’ loss to the Mavericks was so expected the Dallas Morning News headlined its game recap “Dallas Mavericks avoid embarrassing loss to Philadelphia 76ers,” though perhaps that was for for SEO purposes.
All good, right? The Sixers could have won Monday night. They led by four at halftime and were down three with just under four minutes left. But, as you probably know, the loss has a silver lining. The team traded away its All-Star at the end of last season and signed young players in the hopes of competing in the future. The Sixers are supposed to be bad this year.
Here's the problem: The Sixers are 5-7. After Monday night's loss, they were still in first place in the Atlantic Division. First place! For a team that was supposed to be losing.
There's reason to think this won't continue. They've lost three straight (and 7 of 9 after a 3-0 start), though they haven't had October NBA Rookie of the Month Michael Carter-Williams. Their early-season wins were flukey: During the opening-night win against the two-time champion Miami Heat, LeBron James was very clearly tired at the end of the game, the consequences of skipping his usual offseason conditioning program in order to get married. And, remember, the Sixers' very first offensive play of the year was a Carter-Williams fast break dunk. That couldn't last.
And LeBron got out of the way so Evan Turner could just sky in and dunk.
Unlike Chip Kelly's offensive success, this wasn't sustainable. The Sixers trailed in the second half of all three games in their 3-0 start. They beat Miami (now 7-3) and Chicago (now 6-3). The Sixers topped the Rockets on a career high 36 points from James Anderson, a guy with a previous career high of 19. While they're in first place right now, they haven't played a game against division competition yet. The wily veterans on the Nets and the Knicks are going to figure out how to play against these kids, and the Sixers will slide down the standings accordingly.
Why mention this now? Because the 3-0 start scared people into thinking the Sixers are going to play this well all season. It's scared many misguided Sixers fans into rooting for the team to lose.
It actually started opening night. I'm in a fantasy football league with high school friends where we trash-talk year round. We venture into other conversations, and I was excitedly emailing the group about the Sixers' go-go start to the year. I thought the proper reaction to the team expected to be the worst in the NBA blowing LeBron and the Heat off the floor in the opening game was something like this:
Instead, several of my buddies were aghast. They should be losing! They wanted Andrew Wiggins (or some other college player they hadn't yet seen) in next year's draft, and the Sixers' victory was impeding the path to this result.
You should be able to root for sports however you want. You should be able to root for the teams you want to without being tied to a city. Root for the Eagles, Lakers, Yankees and Penguins. If you gauge baseball player value by runs batted in and player attractiveness and instead of my way (on-base-percentage-plus-slugging, adjusted relative to league value, plus quality of haircut), you are not a better sports fan. If you only root for teams when they're in the championship game, you don't get to enjoy the victory any less than a die-hard who watches every second.
But there should be some ground rules. Actually, I can think of only one: Root for your favorite team to win. Scouring my brain and the Internet, I came up with only two exceptions. One is the 1994 Barbados-Grenada Caribbean Cup qualification match where, due to a stupid rule, Grenada was attempting to score into either goal in the final minutes of regulation in order to advance. (The rule: Extra-time wins would be counted as 2-goal victories; Barbados' 3-2 extra time win actually counted as 4-2, which gave them the goal differential to advance into the Caribbean Cup over Grenada. Had Grenada lost 3-2 in regulation, it would have advanced. Confusing!)
The other is if you're a fan of the Washington Generals. That's their gimmick! Feel free to root for them to lose.
I know what you're thinking: What about the 1968 Eagles season? The Birds started 0-11, then won two late-season games to remove the team from the chance to draft O.J. Simpson. Surely we should have rooted for the Eagles to lose in Weeks 12 and 13 of that year, if we were alive at the time? I say no. One, Simpson never even made a Super Bowl in Buffalo. Two, the Eagles avoided having their franchise associated with notorious wife-beater/technically exonerated murderer O.J. Simpson.
It's easy to joke, but the Sixers aren't technically trying to lose. It's more that they're willing to lose. They traded away the team's best asset in the preseason and built the roster with young players who can learn a lot by playing huge minutes this season even if they're not quite up to NBA competition. Turns out they might be a little better than we thought. But the year the Cavaliers got the No. 1 pick (and drafted Kyrie Irving), they were 7-9 and had beaten the Miami Heat. They finished 19-63. There's an almost 100 percent chance — and it may already be showing — that the early 3-0 start was an aberration.
I'm really only trying to perform a public service here. If you didn't enjoy the Sixers' opening-night win against the Heat, you missed out. The advantage of a season like this is it's okay when the Sixers lose, not that you want them to lose. You can enjoy their wins. Come on. Don't you want to be more like these guys?
I know you do. I know it's hard and you think the Sixers are ruining their chance at the best possible draft pick. This is a new management team, though, and I think you might as well give the new guys a shot to put it together. You don't have to cheer very hard. Just a little. C'mon. I know you can do it.