WASHINGTON – After the disastrous loss Wednesday to the Washington Wizards, Jimmy Butler was asked what the 76ers can take into their game Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.

“Don’t lose,” the Sixers swingman said after the 123-106 defeat.

While the response was short, it was a correct one. The Sixers can’t afford to lose to opponents they are expected to beat.

They suffered this setback to the undermanned Wizards (17-25) one day after beating them by 17 points at home. The Sixers (27-15) also had an inexcusable loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers back on Nov. 23 at home. Cleveland, which has a league-worst 8-34 record, toppled the Sixers, 121-112, on that night.

In the Hawks (12-29), they will host the league’s fifth-worst team. Atlanta has lost five of its last six.

Games against the Hawks, Wizards, and the 10-31 New York Knicks on Sunday are the ones the Sixers must win to keep pace with the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.

The Sixers were fourth in the conference, a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers with 40 games remaining. They are also a one and a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Boston Celtics.

Beginning on Jan. 17 at Indiana, the Sixers will have a grueling 12-game stretch in which they could lose at least half of those games. That’s why, even at the midpoint of the season, losses like Wednesday’s could haunt them in regard to conference playoff seeding. The losses to the Wizards and Cavs could ultimately decide home-court advantage in the first round.

NBA All-Star voting

Joel Embiid and Butler are third and fourth, respectively, in the second fan returns for NBA All-Star voting for Eastern Conference frontcout players.

Teammate Ben Simmons is fourth for conference guards.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo leads all conference players with 2,670,816 votes. But Los Angeles Lakers forward and four-time league MVP LeBron James is the top overall vote-getter at 2,779,812 in the second returns.

Fans account for 50 percent of the vote to determine the 10 starters for the NBA All-Star Game, scheduled for Feb. 17 in Charlotte, N.C. A media panel and current NBA players will each account for 25 percent of the vote. The voters must pick two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference on their ballets. Voting concludes at 11:59 p..m. Jan. 21.

The top three frontcourt and top two backcourt vote-getters in each conference will make up the 10 starters. The all-star reserves are selected by the coaches.

The captains will be the starters with the most votes in their respective conferences. The two captains will draft rosters from a pool of players voted as starters and reserves regardless of their conference affiliation.

The Eastern Conference’s top three frontcourt vote-getters remain unchanged from the first return. Antetokounmpo is followed by Toronto small forward Kawhi Leonard (2,092,806) and Embiid (1,710,229). Butler dropped one place to fifth (569,354).

Boston point guard Kyrie Irving (2,381,901), Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade (1,199,789), Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (858,798), and Simmons (695,032) are the conference’s four leading guards.