THE 76ERS got their first win of the season Wednesday in Minnesota, 18 games into what no doubt will continue to be a wretched season beginning tonight against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now that the first win has been obtained and the NBA record for consecutive losses to begin a season still belongs to the 2009-10 Nets, with the Sixers falling one loss short of that mark, the national media will stay away from the train wreck for a while - at least until the next record-threatening streak arises. The Sixers probably won't be headlining "SportsCenter" again anytime soon. ESPN, which had sent an on-air talent and a website writer to follow the Sixers until they won, can cancel that idea. To those around the professional basketball world, the Sixers can go back to being irrelevant and continue with The Plan that has been set in place.
And all of that is just fine with coach Brett Brown and his players.
Ask the coach and any of the players what their record is and they'll almost always reply the same: "It is what it is." The win pleased Brown because it rewarded his players for pushing through daily, for blindly dealing with the barrage of losses that will continue to hit them. But he treated the win almost as dismissively as he does the losses.
It is his greatest trait in the impossible job that he took.
It is true that this roster is filled with players who should be on their knees thanking Sam Hinkie for allowing them to play in the NBA. So why wouldn't they play hard each and every day? Still, not getting the reward of winning is going to drain anyone. Anyone, that is, except Brown.
Earlier in the week Brown's NBA mentor, Gregg Popovich, talked about the positive attitude that Brown possesses. Popovich had a message to Sixers fans, saying that there may be no one better for the job than Brown.
Somehow through all this, having lost 80 percent of the 100 games he has coached with the Sixers, Brown is still there, "attacking each day," as he loves to say. It really is remarkable to see the way his players react to his teachings, his positive reinforcement and even his bellowing.
So how does he do it? How in the world can Brown say, as he has twice this week, that he would take this job "50 times out of 50 times all over again."
"I think when the lights go out and it's sort of quiet, you think a lot. This is hard," Brown said. "But you come back in the gym and you see these guys and you're reminded why you took the job and you left Disneyland in San Antonio, and you just have a new level of juice. Even knowing what I know now, with our draft picks not here and we're taking some hits with some injuries, I'd take this job 50 times out of 50 times. When in pro sport do you have an opportunity to have a chance to put your thumbprint on a culture and have a chance to grow it? This opportunity doesn't happen.
"There are amazing sacrifices that have happened along the way. Our owners are prideful. They are incredibly gifted and successful business people. I've been used to winning 50 games every one of my NBA years [in San Antonio]. You come in here and your pride takes a belting from time to time, but the excitement of the challenge keeps me motivated. These guys are great. I love coaching these guys. They play their tails off and they practice hard and they don't cheat days and our communication is real. The whole thing, despite what the record says, we're good. We're strong.
"I'm not here to candy-coat the desire and the approach to winning. We talk win, we coach win, they practice win. They want to win. But when we don't or if they accumulate and some record book says we're close to something, it's not going to bang us around and make us go off path. Sometimes I feel like people want us to go off path or you have to show some weakness and we're all just devastated and crushed. We're not. And we won't be. Pride is there, competitive spirit is always there. But we dust ourselves off, we regroup and I take a group that is the youngest in the history of the game and try to go find a way to win an NBA game. That's the plan and will be the plan."
They found a way Wednesday. They might not find a way again for a long time. But Brown will make sure his players handle it and move forward. Judging what kind of NBA coach he is simply can't be done until he has a roster that has more NBA-ready players. But could coaching talent be any tougher than what he's going through in his first two seasons here?
Oklahoma City Thunder at Sixers
When: Tonight, 7 o'clock
Where: Wells Fargo Center
TV/Radio: NBA TV, Comcast SportsNet/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)
Game stuff: A week or so ago, this looked like a game the Sixers might be able to win. But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant came back a little sooner than expected from injuries this week, and now it looks like the mismatch you would expect. OKC hasn't played since Tuesday, so there's a good possibility the two will play tonight.
Sixers at Detroit Pistons
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Palace at Auburn Hills
TV/Radio: The Comcast Network/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)
Game stuff: On Wednesday, the Pistons lost their 10th game in a row, in overtime to the Boston Celtics. Starting point guard Brandon Jennings and his backup, D.J. Augustin, combined to shoot 0-for-17 from the floor. The Pistons have scored more than 100 only twice in their 19 games.
Sixers at Atlanta Hawks
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)
Game stuff: With a win at Miami on Wednesday, the Hawks have now won four consecutive games. They are one of the more explosive scoring teams in the league, having gone over the century mark in each of their last six games.
By the numbers
23: That's how many consecutive games the Sixers had lost against the Western Conference before beating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
20.7, 10. 7, 10: That's how many points, assists and rebounds Michael Carter-Williams has averaged over the past three games. Coincidentally, Tony Wroten has missed those with a knee injury.
1-for-17: That's what the Sixers were from three-point range in the first three quarters against Minnesota on Wednesday. They made four of seven in the fourth.