Brett Brown is either the most optimistic or the least realistic coach in professional sports. Sometimes, he's probably both.
Brown still insists his Philadelphia 76ers can compete with any team at any time, which is tough to make sense of since they haven't beaten anyone in nearly eight months heading into Wednesday night's visit from the Toronto Raptors.
Brown has presided over a team that's gone 37-134 since he took over at the start of the 2013-14 season, but at least publicly he's insisting that the most gradual rebuilding process the NBA has ever seen doesn't mean the 76ers (0-7) can't compete every night.
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"I truly think we can beat anybody on a given night," Brown told the team's official website Tuesday, a day after Philadelphia's losing streak reached 17 in a 111-88 loss to Chicago. "You go into it thinking that, hoping that. You're there for a while, then the game's 48 minutes, and it's unforgiving.
"We feel we've been playing more of the 48 (minutes) than we did at the start. You see that with injury, there's no wiggle room. ... All over the place, there's just no margin for error."
That's especially true if Nerlens Noel isn't available, which he wasn't against the Bulls because of soreness in both wrists. He considers himself "game to game." Robert Covington, who has only played in one game because of a knee injury, could return as soon as Saturday.
The Raptors (5-3) are dealing with a pair of lingering injuries to rotation players. Terrence Ross suffered a ligament injury in his left thumb Monday during a workout and is out indefinitely, while DeMarre Carroll seems likely to miss at least a third straight game Wednesday as he deals with plantar fasciitis.
After averaging 81.5 points in losses to Orlando and Miami to wrap up a four-game trip, Toronto returned home to find that defense was the issue in a 111-109 loss to New York on Tuesday.
Brown may think that the 76ers can go toe to toe with anyone, but they haven't beaten Toronto since he's been on the sidelines. The Raptors have won all eight meetings in the past two seasons, making them the only Eastern Conference team Philadelphia hasn't topped at least once in Brown's tenure.
DeMar DeRozan has had a big hand in those victories, averaging 24.8 points.
DeRozan had a season-high 29 in Tuesday's loss, but having a shooting guard who's no threat beyond the 3-point line might start to become a problem for Toronto without Carroll and Ross, who shot a combined 38.2 percent from the arc last season.
Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson are the only somewhat viable 3-point threats left, and the Raptors are 22 of 90 (24.4 percent) from long distance in their past five games.
James Johnson has started the last two at small forward, but with Cory Joseph playing well as Lowry's backup, Dwane Casey indicated he may occasionally play his two point guards together in a smaller lineup.
"We probably have to go that way for a little bit," Casey said. "We've got to get all men on board right now."
The 76ers have been even worse from long range in the early going, shooting just 30.6 percent with only Isaiah Canaan (38.1) showing any sort of proficiency.
Jahlil Okafor is getting plenty of touches down low - his 84 post-ups lead the NBA and his 19.9 points per game are easily the most among rookies - but his solid numbers haven't meant much on a team level. Of the 142 players to average 25 minutes, no one has a worse net rating (points per 100 possessions) than Okafor's minus-22.3.