The Houston Rockets had rough luck this season. First, their franchise player, James Harden, requested a trade that severely set back the franchise. Then they went on a losing streak that took up a massive chunk of the season. Winning in the NBA is difficult, but some teams have lost so much they’ve set records. Let’s look at why some teams lose big in the NBA and identify the longest NBA losing streak.
The Houston Rockets lost 20 games in a row
The Rockets had some tough luck with Harden’s departure this year, but they seemingly had pieces in place to keep things interesting. They acquired guard John Wall from Washington in a trade for Russell Westbrook. They also had a promising first-year head coach in Stephen Silas. Unfortunately, nothing broke right for the team. They even had a losing streak that lasted 20 games.
All that ended with a March 23 win over the Toronto Raptors. While the team realized they still had a lot of work to do, they took a moment to enjoy the victory. Silas was happiest for the players, according to ESPN:
“It’s like indescribable for a win in March of this crazy season … I’m just so proud of the guys. When you’re like going through it and fighting so hard and you just see the disappointment in the players’ faces after loss after loss after loss. Then to go into the locker room after today’s game and everybody’s just happy and joyous, I mean, it’s super cool and great.”
The Rockets were bad this year, but they didn’t seem that bad on paper. How is it that any team goes on a historic losing streak?
Why an NBA team goes on a long losing streak
Teams experiencing extreme futility often suffer from one of several issues. Injuries can play a role. Losing a star player (or even a critical role player) can hamper a team’s ability to function. But what has really hurt many franchises is the concept of the superteam.
Ever since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces in Miami, more superstars are playing for the same teams. This creates a glut of talent on a handful of teams, while the rest of the NBA attempts to compete. That’s not always easy. Teams either need to hit it big on a high draft pick or find a way to obtain interest from a high-profile free agent. That means you need to be in a big or desirable market (LA, Miami, or Brooklyn, for example) or luck your way into generational talent (Milwaukee).
When teams can’t do either, they need to put themselves in a better position to do so. That’s why the trend of teams “tanking” for higher draft picks has become widely accepted. The Philadelphia 76ers are a recent example. They employed a motto of “Trust the Process” when they bottomed out only to land high picks like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. When a team tanks, until they hit on great draft picks, it involves a lot of losing.
What is the longest losing streak in NBA history?
It’s clear that the two of the major culprits behind the NBA’s major losing streaks are a lack of superstars on a team as well as rebuilding. The two teams tied for the longest losing streak of all-time in NBA history represent each of those instances.
According to Land of Basketball, the longest losing streak in NBA history is 26 games. Two teams are tied for the (dis)honor: the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers and the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the case of the Sixers, they were smack dab in the middle of their famous rebuild that seems to be paying off now. As for the Cavs, they had just lost James in free agency the previous offseason. It should come as no surprise that either team holds this ignominious record.