Despite the 76ers’ rough start to the season, the expectations have not changed: This is still a team that expects to contend for the Eastern Conference title.

If they can somehow fulfill those expectations, this season will be a great example of overcoming adversity.

Thursday night’s 110-102 road victory over the Brooklyn Nets showed they’re talented. It also revealed why the Sixers might also be the most cursed squad in the NBA.

Just when they thought they were getting healthy, it was announced prior to Thursday’s game that head coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Brian Adams, along with replacement player Tyler Johnson and two-way player Myles Power had positive COVID-19 tests.

The four joined small forward Danny Green and assistant coach Sam Cassell, who were already sidelined because of the league COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Being undermanned because of COVID isn’t new for the Sixers (19-16), who’ve had 10 players test positive this season. But the team has been dealing with adversity and overcoming distractions since the conclusion of last postseason.

That’s when Ben Simmons made it known he no longer wanted to remain a Sixer.

Even though the three-time All-Star remains on the roster, it’s hard to categorize him as a team member. Simmons hasn’t played in a game, or sat on the bench, or even accompanied the team on road trips. Don’t bank on him doing so unless things suddenly change.

» READ MORE: Sixers vs. Nets analysis: Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey shine in victory over Eastern Conference’s top team

Crediting Rivers

Rivers has been credited with the Sixers’ continued resilience through tough times.

“He keeps everything matter-of-fact, straight-to-the-point,” said assistant Dan Burke, who’s serving as the acting head coach during Rivers’ absence. “It kind of reminds me of when I was with Rick Carlisle [with the Indiana Pacers], even after the riot in Detroit [on Nov. 19, 2004].”

The infamous Malice at the Palace altercation between the Pistons and Pacers spilled into The Palace of Auburn Hills’ stands and led to the suspension of nine players.

“We had a game the next day and it was just, ‘We got enough players and we’re playing,’” said Burke, a former longtime Pacers assistant. “I think we’re growing up and maturing.”

Burke might have a point.

The Sixers displayed a looseness and calmness Thursday that wasn’t visible earlier in the season. Guys are also getting out of their comfort zones.

“I think when you get more out of your comfort zone, and start to grow,” Burke said, “I think it helps the team in the long run.”

The Sixers have two winnable games -- against the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic -- before Rivers is expected to return later this week.

They entertain a Rockets squad on Monday, that at 10-27, has the Western Conference’s worst record. Then the Sixers will travel to Orlando to face the 7-29 Magic (second-worst in the East) on Wednesday, before entertaining the 14-21 San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

After that, the Sixers will receive a rare and appreciated four days off before hosting the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 12.

By then, they should already have close to their full complement of players and coaches to be able to make a run.

The Sixers should finish a worst-case-scenario 3-1 against the Rockets, Magic, Spurs, and Hornets. They should also rise in the standings, thanks to having the league’s fourth-easiest remaining schedule, according to tankathon.com.

“Damn near our whole team [had] COVID, so I think we should be good now,” Andre Drummond said. “I think we got that part out of the way. So I think we should be good now.

“[It’s] just making sure we protect each other and staying safe through crazy times. So it’s good to have almost everybody back.”

Dealing with injuries and COVID

After overcoming the early-season distractions that come with Simmons’ absence, the Sixers had a conference-best 8-2 record on Nov. 6. Two of those victories were against the Chicago Bulls (24-10), who are currently atop the conference standings.

Yet, things began to crumble two days later when Joel Embiid became the fourth Sixer to test positive for COVID.

The Sixers were the first NBA team ravaged by COVID protocols, as Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe missed a combined 27 games in November.

But after returning, Harris was sidelined two games with a strained left hip and Green missed seven games during an 11-game stretch with a left hamstring injury.

Seth Curry (one game, left foot contusion; one game, back stiffness), Shake Milton (four games, sprained right ankle, one game, left groin soreness), Furkan Korkmaz (one game, right wrist soreness), and Drummond (one game, sprained right ankle) also missed time through the first 20 games, as the Sixers dropped to 10-10 and 11th in the standings.

» READ MORE: Sixers coach Doc Rivers tests positive for coronavirus and is placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Unfortunately for them, the injuries and the bouts with COVID were not over, magnifying Simmons’ absence.

Not having the mandatory eight available players, the Sixers’ scheduled Dec. 19 game against the New Orleans Pelicans was postponed.

Kurkmaz went on to miss three games with the flu. Georges Niang, Drummond, and Milton all missed four games after testing positive for COVID.

Tyrese Maxey missed two games with a left quadriceps contusion after missing the Dec. 6 game against the Hornets with the flu. And Green has been in protocols the last four games.

Big win

But the Sixers played arguably their best game of the season Thursday night against the Nets.

Embiid was his dominant self, finishing with a game-high 34 points. However, they would not have won the game without Maxey’s clutch three-pointers. The second-year point guard made a career-high five threes, including a clutch pair in the fourth quarter, while finishing with 25 points. Drummond (10 points and 10 rebounds) and Niang (nine points, all in the second half) also made key contributions in what was the Sixers’ third straight win.

“I’m happy that we’re getting back on a roll,” Embiid said. “We are starting to climb up the standings again and starting to get back to where we were before COVID hit us at the beginning.

“I think we got a chance to [contend].”

If they do bounce back, this season will be one great example of overcoming adversity.