Both teams are good, yes, and both have title aspirations; but both are flawed, and neither is a favorite.
Right now, the Sixers might not be favored to win the Big Ten.
Despite all appearances, no credible accusation can be made that the Sixers are, in fact, trying to lose.
Trades the past two offseasons that cost them All-Stars Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday crippled them in the short term, but the acquisitions of Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams make them a decent bet to return to respectability in the long term . . . as long as Noel progresses quickly next season, having missed all of this season recovering from knee surgery.
Neither is expected to be the franchise difference-maker for which teams allegedly tank. Maybe that player will arrive in the next draft, in which the Sixers hold two first-round picks . . . one of which is almost certain to be in the top five.
After all, going into last night's game they had lost seven in a row and 17 of 20. It would have been 11 straight if Evan Turner hadn't hit a last-second shot in Boston. Teams have decided to play MCW for the pass and to make Turner either shoot jump shots or leave his feet before challenging him in the paint. The result: Carter-Williams is averaging 4.8 turnovers since the seven-game skid began, after averaging a healthy 3.3 before it. Turner is scoring 10.9 points, shooting 35 percent and averaging 3.0 turnovers in the seven-game skid; he was at 18.5 and 43.9 before it.
Certainly, the Sixers were constructed for the long term and they expected to struggle, but they could have jettisoned Turner, their leading scorer, or Thaddeus Young, their best player, if they really had wanted to scuttle the ship.
They did not seek to abandon these kids, the youngest group in the NBA. They understood the effect that embarrassment can have.
No club wants its players to trail by a combined 105 points in consecutive games.
No club wants to lose back-to-back by a combined 88 points.
No club wants to trail by a combined 72 points at halftime.
When that happens, the coach is reduced to speaking about salvaging abstracts, like "dignity."
He is forced to admit that being unable to compete leads to "deflation."
He must allow that the club has no interest in playing good "defense."
These are the darkest of days for rookie head coach Brett Brown, weaned on winning in San Antonio.
It has been a couple of weeks since the Sixers executed one of Brown's thorough game models, which begin with crisp defensive commitments and incorporate lots of passing.
As such, they rank last in the NBA in points allowed, scoring differential, turnovers, number of shots blocked by the opposition . . . and morale.
They are thousands of miles from their home court, and they are a laughingstock.
This could have a lingering effect.
Carter-Williams appears to have excellent character. Besides, he has known losing before; his team at the St. Andrews School in Rhode Island went 11-19 when he was a sophomore, which was his first season there.
Noel is only watching.
Young, Turner and center Spencer Hawes might not figure into the longer-range plans.
Then again, the longer-range plans might not work out.
The supreme argument against tanking remains valid: The player or players for whom you are positioning might not develop. Consider this year's No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett, who is just beginning to show NBA competence, or injury-riddled center Greg Oden, the top pick in 2007. Consolation prizes don't always work out, either, such as Derrick Williams, No. 2 in 2011; Michael Beasley in 2008; and, God bless him, plucky old Evan Turner, back in 2010.
None of this year's crop is a guarantee. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins was compared to LeBron and Kobe before he went to Kansas: Do you think Kobe or LeBron would have been held to seven points by Texas? Even when a possible messiah like Wiggins descends, he needs a little time to adjust. LeBron shot 41.7 percent as a rookie for a Cavaliers club that finished 12 games under .500. Kobe almost never started during his first two seasons with the Lakers.
Jabari Parker, at Duke, might be the most NBA-ready player, but even he is too raw to deliver immediate impact. Athletic center Joel Embiid, another Kansas freshman, probably has the highest ceiling - he reminds you of Hakeem Olajuwon - but he is a converted volleyball player from Cameroon with 3 years of basketball experience. He won't come close to that ceiling until he signs his second NBA contract. Olajuwon, a Nigerian soccer goaltender, played three full seasons of basketball in college before he was drafted.
The Sixers could still win 20 to 25 games, which likely would put them in great shape in pingpong-ball terms. Still, even the team with the best chance to snare the top pick could pick as low as fourth; the No. 2 team, as low as fifth; the No. 3 team, as low as sixth.
So, a team could be in line for Andrew Bogut and have to settle for . . . Chris Paul.
See? It's an inexact science.
The Sixers know that.
No, they're not tanking.
Just imagine how bad they could smell if they really tried.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch