HOUSTON – Philadelphia coach Brett Brown was grasping for positives after his team tied an NBA record for futility by dropping its 26th straight game on Thursday night.
"We still don't have the poorest record in the league," said Brown, whose Sixers have won one more game than league-worst Milwaukee. "When you look at the realities of where we ended up, it's not as painful and as shocking as it may seem to others."
Regardless of the Bucks' record, Philadelphia's winless stretch has been matched in NBA history only by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.
James Harden had 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in three quarters for his second career triple-double to lead the Houston Rockets to the 120-98 win — their fifth straight.
The 76ers (15-57) stuck around early before a big second-quarter run allowed the Rockets to pull away and roll to the win.
The 76ers can set the record for NBA ineptitude at home against Detroit on Saturday.
Brown is dedicated to Philadelphia's rebuilding process and seems undaunted by the skid.
"We're trying to grow something and build something," he said. "And the short-term pain we hope is going to produce long-term gain. We think that this will fade to a distant memory in September and we are staying strong with our approach."
James Anderson led the Sixers with 30 points that included six 3-pointers.
The Sixers haven't won since Jan. 29 and are two games from going winless in two straight months. There was little visible emotion as the final seconds ticked away and the players slowly made their way off the court.
But rookie Michael Carter-Williams didn't like what he saw during the game and addressed the team afterward.
"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."
Dwight Howard added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Houston. Terrence Jones had 20 points.
"I think tonight could have been somewhat of a trap game for us," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. "At the beginning, we didn't come out with maybe the best mindset ... we pushed the lead to 15 points in the second quarter and from then on it was OK."
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 Young fell backward to the floor. 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 over his head and into the crowd.
Carter-Williams got in on the bad play 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 NBA's youngest team, which has continued to play hard during its 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 that 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 said 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 the four major professional sports.
According to STATS, the longest streaks in the other major U.S. sports are held by:
— the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, 26 losses in row, from Sept. 12, 1976-Dec. 4 1977;
— the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball, 23 losses in a row, from July 29, 1961-Aug. 20, 1961;
— the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL, 18 losses in a row, from Jan. 13, 2004-Feb. 22, 2004.
NOTES: Former Rockets and Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone attended the game. Malone also played for the 76ers. ... Houston point guard Pat Beverley sprained his right knee in the first half and didn't return.