HOUSTON — After the Philadelphia 76ers tied an NBA record with their 26th consecutive loss, one of their youngest voices spoke loudest.
Michael Carter-Williams, one of six rookies on the NBA’s youngest team, delivered a pep talk after James Harden’s triple-double led the Houston Rockets to a 120-98 victory on Thursday night.
“During the game a couple of guys had long faces … and I found myself a little bit down,” said Carter-Williams, who had 10 assists. “I just don’t want anyone in this locker room feeling bad for themselves … I think that’s really important that we don’t get down on ourselves and we just give up just because we have a certain amount of losses.
“I just felt like I needed to speak my piece and make sure that guys are upbeat every single day.”
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown was impressed by the leadership the 22-year-old Carter-Williams showed.
“He never would have done that two months ago,” Brown said. “He wouldn’t have done it two weeks ago. All these things, all these small wins we find along the way, that’s our road map this year. And life moves on. The group will stay together and we will finish this thing out together.”
Harden had 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in three quarters for his second career triple-double as Houston picked up its fifth straight victory.
“We did a great job of coming out tonight and taking care of business,” Harden said. “No matter what their record was, we knew they were going to come here and play hard.”
The 76ers (15-57) stuck around early before a big second-quarter run allowed the Rockets to pull away and roll to the win. Philadelphia moved within a game of Milwaukee for the league’s worst record.
Philadelphia matched the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA’s worst skid and can set the record at home against Detroit on Saturday.
“We move on,” Brown said. “We are on a different path. We see this whole thing through a far different lens.”
James Anderson led the Sixers with 30 points and made six 3-pointers.
The Sixers haven’t won since Jan. 29 and are two games away from going winless in two straight months. There was very little visible emotion as the final seconds ticked away and the players slowly made their way off the court.
Dwight Howard added 17 points with 13 rebounds for Houston. Terrence Jones had 20 points.
There were a number of lowlights as the 76ers took their spot in history. One came when Howard blocked a shot by Thaddeus Young and he fell backward to the ground. By the time he got up, the Rockets were already on the other end of the court running their offense.
Another was when the Sixers got a steal, but gave it back seconds later when Young’s pass intended for Anderson sailed high over his head and into the crowd.
Carter-Williams got in on the bad play action when, under heavy pressure from Harden, he simply threw the ball into the Philadelphia bench in the second quarter.
But the game wasn’t without some nice plays by the Sixers, who have continued to play hard during this terrible stretch. A highlight came when Casper Ware grabbed a steal and made a 46-foot heave as time expired in the first quarter.
That shot was part of a 12-0 run which got the Sixers within 35-33 early in the second quarter.
A nice reverse layup by Anderson tied it at 43-all midway through the second quarter before Houston used a 20-6 run to take a 63-49 lead at halftime.
The Sixers missed nine shots, including three layups, and had four turnovers as the Rockets built the lead.
Houston was up by 17 late in the third quarter when the team went on an 8-0 run to pad the lead to 96-71.
Brown addressed the dreadful stretch before the game and he isn’t interested in anyone’s pity.
“I hope they feel good about themselves,” he said. “I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for us or hanging our head … we are going through something and we will get through it together.”
He also discussed their plan for rebuilding at length, saying he knew what he was getting into when he took the job and insisted this skid hasn’t been difficult for him.
“I can tell you very, very sincerely that this is something that in a twisted way is enjoyable in regards to watching the young guys get better,” he said. “Obviously at times it’s hard going through it … (but) I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”
None of that can erase the fact that this streak now has its place in history as one of the worst in all of the four major professional sports.
According to STATS LLC, the longest streaks in the other major sports are held by:
— In the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 26 losses in row, from Sept. 12, 1976-Dec. 4 1977.
— In MLB, the Philadelphia Phillies, 23 losses in a row, from Jan. 29, 1961-Aug. 20, 1961.
— In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 18 losses in a row, from Jan. 13, 2004-Feb. 22, 2004.