76ers 97, New York Knicks 81.

This probably wasn't the result that Sixers fans who bought into the team's tanking tactics wanted to see. The victory Friday at the Wells Fargo Center dropped the Sixers (17-52) three losses behind the last-place Knicks (14-55) in the battle for the most Ping-Pong balls.

So instead of getting the tank-friendly loss, the Sixers notched their fourth victory in their last seven games. One could label their recent performance as tanking at its worst.

But the Sixers squad known for outhustling opponents was perhaps its worst enemy in regard to producing losses against struggling teams.

"I can't think [about hurting draft chances]," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I have no idea how to coach anymore if that becomes part of it all. I really don't.

"You can't cheat the game."

Brown understands the situation and how Sixers losses would help.

"I can't walk into the locker room and do anything else with those guys," he said of coaching them to win. "They want to play hard. They want to compete. Whatever ends up happening ends up happening."

The Sixers were favored in a game (by 61/2 points) for the first time this season.

Center Nerlens Noel produced the 13th double-double of his rookie campaign. He had a career-best 23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks.

Former Sixers reserve Alexey Shved finished with a game-high 25 points for the Knicks. The point guard made 7 of 8 three-point attempts. Shved was traded to the Houston Rockets on Dec. 19. The Rockets then traded him to New York on Feb. 19. This was Shved's first time facing the Sixers.

The Sixers definitely would have benefited from losing this game in regards to securing a top draft pick. They still have the league's third-worst record behind the Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves (15-53) with 13 games remaining. The Sixers have another winnable game on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Lakers (17-50), the league's fourth-worst team.

The team that finishes the season with the worst record will have a 25 percent chance to win the draft lottery May 19. It also will be guaranteed a top-four selection. That's vital for the Sixers considering that they desperately need to add an impact guard.

Former Guangdong Southern Tigers point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State freshman combo guard D'Angelo Russell are the top guard prospects expected to be off the board after the first four picks.

"I think we are all right," Noel said. "I feel like we've got some of the pieces. We are going to be in a good position to get a great player in the draft.

"We are not looking to lose, obviously. So we go out there and compete and the outcome is the outcome."

It was obvious from the start that the woeful Knicks wouldn't provide much resistance. Noel did whatever he wanted as the Sixers improved to 2-14 against Atlantic Division foes. This was also their first win in this season's eight home games against division opponents.

It wasn't shocking that the Sixers won. While the Sixers play hard, the Knicks are in an all-out tank mode. Carmelo Anthony (knee), Jose Calderon (left Achilles), Tim Hardaway Jr. (right wrist), and Cleanthony Early (sprained left ankle) were out with injuries.

The Sixers were without reserve power forward Thomas Robinson (rib bruise). He was hurt Wednesday in a victory over the Detroit Pistons. Robinson expects to play against the Lakers.

Race to the Bottom

The 76ers, Knicks, Timberwolves, and Lakers are battling for the NBA's worst record, and with it the best chance at landing the top pick in June's draft. Here is where the worst of the worst stand:

Knicks   14-55   -

T'Wolves   15-53   11/2

76ers   17-52   3

Lakers   17-50   4