Sixers discuss Nerlens Noel's return to Philadelphia as a Maverick

Sixers discuss Nerlens Noel's return to Philadelphia as a Maverick

Nerlens Noel left an interesting footprint on the Sixers' organization.

Originally drafted sixth overall by New Orleans, Noel was dealt to the Sixers along with a future first-round pick in a draft night trade for guard Jrue Holiday. This was Sam Hinkie's first true move in The Process.

After a trade deadline deal that sent him to Dallas for swingman Justin Anderson and a heavily protected first-round pick, Noel will be in the Wells Fargo Center for the first time as a Maverick Friday.

"It'll be funny to see Nerlens on the other side," Dario Saric said at practice Thursday. "He was a big part of this team. I think I can say a big part of this process. More than probably anybody here. He was the first to come to Philly. Of course it will be fun to play against him."

Jahlil Okafor has benefitted the most from Noel's departure. Okafor has been given more run and been the team's starting center. Since the trade, Okafor has averaged 23.3 minutes and started all nine games he's been active for.

Despite the logjam the Sixers had at center, Okafor and Noel remained friends. On Friday, they'll be opponents for the first time. Okafor is glad to see Noel excelling in Dallas and is looking forward to squaring off with him Friday.

"I love Nerlens to death," Okafor said. "He's someone that's been genuine with me since the second I got to Philadelphia. I'm happy for him. I know he's playing well in Dallas. I'm excited to see him tomorrow."

As for the Sixers' end of the trade, Anderson has remained pretty level headed about facing his former team. He was the Mavericks' first-round pick (21st overall) in 2015. Buried behind more accomplished wings in Dallas, Anderson never got much of an opportunity to showcase his talent.

Still, Anderson has nothing but praise for the organization that drafted him.

"Obviously there's probably a lot to it with Nerlens and all, but it's a situation where it's unique," Anderson said. "Being around a bunch of older veterans (in Dallas), they taught me a lot. But also just understanding the game, understanding the NBA game. That's my first [team] so it had a lot of weight as far as my professional career."

Noel became a cult hero in Philadelphia for being the catalyst of The Process. Fans embraced his energy and loved his potential on the defensive end of the floor.

For his Sixers career, Noel averaged 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 171 games. With the Mavericks, he'll have the opportunity to become their starting center of the future, something the Sixers simply couldn't offer.

"I'm very fond of Nerlens," head coach Brett Brown said. "He and I went through a lot. On many levels you miss him. You always wish him well. In my heart of hearts, I think he's in a really good place. He will be viewed as a perspective starting center and he should be viewed as that."

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).