The 76ers did a horrible thing Wednesday night - they defeated the Detroit Pistons.
Why horrible? Because the Sixers are supposed to have tanking fever.
Yet, they have a dilemma. General manager Sam Hinkie purposely constructed a bad team with the hope of securing one of the top picks in June's NBA draft. However, his players have refused to adopt a losing mentality, and the Sixers have won three of their past six games.
Now their schedule really isn't conductive to losing. They host the New York Knicks on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Then the Sixers, who at 16-52 hold the league's third-worst record, have road games at the Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday), the Sacramento Kings (Tuesday) and Denver Nuggets (Wednesday).
The Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves, who at 14-53 are tied for the NBA's worst record, battled Thursday night.
At 17-49, the Lakers took the league's fourth-worst record into Thursday night's home game against the Utah Jazz. Meanwhile, the Sixers have already recorded home victories over both the Kings (22-45) and the Nuggets (26-42) this season.
Under normal circumstances, this would be the perfect opportunity to beat an Atlantic Division rival in the Knicks. Then it would be a great opportunity to snap a 14-game road losing streak and perhaps win consecutive road games since beating the Orlando Magic (Dec. 21) and Miami Heat (Dec. 23).
But winning two or more of these games could hinder the Sixers' ability to secure getting the preferred impact player in the draft.
Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, former Guangdong Southern Tigers point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, Kentucky freshman post player Karl Townes and Ohio State freshman combo guard D'Angelo Russell are shaping up to be the top four picks, and are considered the only nearly sure things in the draft.
The team that finishes the season with the worst record will have a 25 percent chance to win the draft lottery on May 19. It will also be guaranteed a top-four selection.
So the Sixers need to keep these next four games entertainingly close for the majority of the matchups for their sanity. But as part of their draft plan, they ultimately need to lose.
A loss to the Knicks would be the third in as many meetings this season. The teams will meet one final time on Easter Sunday, April 5, at Madison Square Garden. But by losing Friday, the Sixers, due to the tiebreaker, would be assured of finishing ahead of New York in the battle for the most ping-pong balls.
They also need to keep losing and hope that Minnesota, who holds the loss tiebreaker over the Sixers, steals a few wins.
The Orlando Magic (21-49) round out the bottom five standings.
With the end of the season so close, struggling teams like the Nuggets and Kings are playing games just because they're on the schedule.
The Sixers are the opposite, using these games as a way to identity keepers for future seasons. And by losing, as a way to secure a top pick.