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Wembanyama among youngsters mired in NBA losing skids

Victor Wembanyama San Antonio Spurs Victor Wembanyama - The Canadian Press

Victor Wembanyama has adjusted to many things — food, culture, double teams — since the top pick's arrival with the San Antonio Spurs.

There's just no getting accustomed to all the losing.

Pick an NBA player's name, any name, and they're not hard-wired for skids. Players like Wembanyama have typically always been on winning teams before coming to the league, not ones that stack up defeats at historic rates. For Wembanyama, along with youngsters like Cade Cunningham and Ausar Thompson in Detroit and Bilal Coulibaly of Washington, losing has become part of their NBA education.

Misery does love company, and the Pistons, who lost their 24th straight game Monday night, have some in the Spurs and Wizards. Despite the presence of Wembanyama, the Spurs have dropped 19 of 20, while the Wizards are in the midst of losing 17 of 19.

“Sometimes, you’ll be in a game and maybe think about the losing streak and causes you to do a little extra or just do something you wouldn’t normally do,” Thompson recently said. “Panic a little bit.”

Thompson's certainly not used to this. He won a state title in high school, along with two titles with Overtime Elite, a professional basketball league based in Atlanta that’s opening another door to the pros for talented young players.

Now, he’s trying to help a struggling Pistons team. The record for the longest losing streak within a single season is shared by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers and 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers, who both dropped 26 consecutive games. The 76ers also had a 28-game losing streak that started in the 2014-15 season and carried over to 2015-16.

“It’s just a miserable existence,” said NBA on TNT analyst analyst Greg Anthony, who was a member of the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies team that dropped 23 straight contests. “Your food doesn’t taste as good. You don’t sleep as well. There’s a lot of stress and anxiety. It wears on you, because everybody in your world knows you’re going through it.

“The city knows it, the country knows it, the entire league. You’re the butt of jokes. As a competitor, that is a really difficult experience to have to go through.”

The Pistons (2-25), Wizards (4-22) and Spurs (4-21) may have scuffling in common. But not all rebuilds are the same. Detroit has an array of first-round talent, and the Spurs boast Wembanyama (he’s averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds). Washington, meanwhile, is generating headlines as much for its moves off the court — possibly relocating out of the District of Columbia — as the mounting losses. On the floor, the Wizards are trying to build around Coulibaly, Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma, the veteran forward who won an NBA title with James and the Lakers.

Other single-digit win teams include Portland (6-19), Memphis (6-19, but Ja Morant returns Tuesday after a 25-game suspension ) and Charlotte (7-18).

It’s a race to the bottom right now, with Detroit in the driver's seat — and no Wembanyama awaiting in the 2024 draft.

“Your whole career, your whole life as an athlete, you’re always in the mindset of winning,” Anthony said. ”And typically, most guys have been on good teams where if you do certain things, well, you’re going to have a chance to win. But when you get in those kinds of situations, where you don’t have control over your own destiny in a specific game, that can really try you and challenge you, and everybody involved. It can just be a really ... poisonous existence.”

The Pistons had all the signs of a team prepared to improve on their 17-65 mark from a season ago. Cunningham was back from shin surgery, they landed Thompson and Marcus Sasser in the most recent draft and had a year of growth from Jaden Ivey, the 2022 fifth overall pick out of Purdue. They also brought in veteran coach Monty Williams.

Instead, it’s been loss after loss after loss after loss, etc.

“You talk to people that are around our team, they’re not laughing, giggling and having a ball. They hate it,” Williams recently said of the losing. “But when we show up in the gym the next day, the guys are wide-eyed. They’re looking at me for answers. They come in and work hard.

“We’ve just hit an unbelievably tough stretch of basketball.”

Anthony knows the feeling.

He was once in the middle of an historical skid, too. This after winning a national championship at UNLV. This after helping New York Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals, where they lost in seven games to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets. As part of the 1995 expansion draft, Anthony was picked by the Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis).

That first season, Anthony experienced a losing streak that started with a loss on Feb. 16, 1996, to Atlanta, and didn’t end until the Grizzlies knocked off Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 23.

“In a weird way, that was like winning a playoff game,” Anthony recalled. “It was a really, really big deal. You can’t even describe the relief that one feels having gone through that.”

Wembanyama almost felt like the weight had been lifted when the Spurs saw their 18-game losing streak end with a win over LeBron James and the Lakers last Friday. On Sunday, though, they lost 146-110 to New Orleans.

The Spurs are young and bumps are part of the journey.

“It might explain it but it doesn’t mean it’s OK,” Wembanyama said. “I mean, any team’s goal is trying to be consistent. We’re on our way. There are no excuses.”


AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Milwaukee contributed to this report.