HOUSTON - Over one season or two, no team in U.S. professional sports history has lost as many consecutive games as the 76ers.
They lost their record-setting 27th straight game dating to March 27 in a 116-114 setback to the Houston Rockets on Friday at the Toyota Center. This time, they were doomed by Rockets guard James Harden, who scored a season-high 50 points to go with nine rebounds and a game-high eight assists. He scored 14 of Houston's final 19 points.
"Time is going to come that we will come out with the victory," said swingman Robert Covington. "We got to go through certain things [on the way to] where we want to go."
In their previous loss, the Sixers tied the futility run established by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 and 1977 seasons. The 2013-14 Sixers and 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers tied that record and hold the NBA mark.
The current Sixers have now opened this season with 17 straight losses, losing the final 10 games of last season.
The 0-17 start ties the franchise mark set in 2014-15 for consecutive losses to start a season. The league record is 18, held by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets.
Next up is a game in Memphis against the Grizzlies on Sunday, followed by a home contest against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. The Sixers can match the league mark for losses to start a season against the Grizzlies. They would be in line to shatter that record versus the Lakers.
For the Rockets (6-10), this was a much-needed victory. They entered the matchup having lost three straight and seven of their last eight games.
Even with that, the Sixers made things closer than expected.
The team was without power forward Nerlens Noel. The Sixers leading rebounder and best rim protector was a late scratch due to right knee soreness.
So the Sixers started the game with a lineup of Isaiah Canaan, JaKarr Sampson, Covington, Jerami Grant, and Jahlil Okafor.
Covington and Canaan had some extra motivation, considering they were facing their former team.
The Rockets waived Covington before the 2014-15 season. Meanwhile, the Sixers acquired Canaan and a second-round pick in exchange for K.J. McDaniels in February.
The roommates spearheaded a Sixers squad that made 16 of 35 three-pointers.
Covington finished with a career-high 28 points while making 6 of 9 three-pointers. The 6-foot-9 small forward also made 8 of 9 foul shots to go with a career high eight steals, six rebounds, five assists, and four turnovers. Canaan added 23 points, while making 4 of 10 foul shots.
The Sixers battled back from a 16-point deficit as the game went down to the wire.
That came in large part to due to the Sixers making 9 of their 10 shots to start to the fourth quarter with Okafor on the bench.
"I think when we look at them, you are going to see such a small-ball game that random pick-and-rolls confuse people, 'Do I switch? Do I stay connected?" Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the group he had on the floor.
"It was more than something perfect pretty offense. It was more than that. It was organized street ball and we got back in it."
Their last basket during that stretch came on Grant's power dunk with 6 minutes, 41 seconds left to give the Sixers a 104-97 lead.
But Harden responded with a 7-0 run of his own on a three-pointer and four foul shots to knot the score at 104. Corey Brewer then converted all three of his foul shots to give Houston a three-point cushion after being fouled while attempting a three with five minutes left.
Harden scored the Rockets next five points - his final three coming on a three-pointer with 2:25 left - to make it a 112-106 game.
"I [was] just in attack mode," Harden said, "taking my shots, being aggressive."
After the Sixers closed the gap to two points, Dwight Howard made a pair of foul shots to make it a 114-110 game with 32.6 seconds left.
With his team down three points with 2.9 seconds left, Covington went to the foul line to attempt a pair of foul shots. After making the first, he intentionally missed the second. However, Howard grabbed the rebound to clinch the two-point victory.