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 the NBA draft in June. His players, however, have refused to adopt a losing mentality, and the Sixers have won three of their last six games.

Now their schedule really won't be conducive 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 were tied for the NBA's worst record before Minnesota beat New York on Thursday night.

At 17-49, the Lakers took the league's fourth-worst record into Thursday night's home game against the Utah Jazz. The Sixers already have recorded home victories over both the Kings (22-45) and the Nuggets (26-42) this season.

The Orlando Magic (21-49) round out the bottom five of the standings.

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 Magic (Dec. 21) and Miami Heat (Dec. 23).

But winning two or more of these games could hinder the Sixers' ability to get 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 also will 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.

 With the end of the season so close, struggling teams such as the Nuggets and Kings are playing games just because they are on the schedule.

The Sixers are the opposite, using these games as a way to identify keepers for future seasons. And, by losing, as a way to secure a top pick.

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

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