PHOENIX -- The Sixers tried it, albeit for one minute and 47 seconds, but they tried it for the first time.

Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel played together on Friday in what has become a highly anticipated pairing as the Sixers experiment with different combinations in an overcrowded frontcourt. 

“He wasn’t on the floor a lot, but I thought we did pretty good,” Embiid said after the Sixers 123-116 loss to the Suns (see Instant Replay). “Obviously I’ve got to watch the tape to see how we did, but I thought defensively we were pretty good and offensively we’ve just got to figure it out.”

Noel was already in the game with Embiid subbed in with 3:26 remaining in the first and the Sixers up 22-18. During that short period of time, Noel nabbed a steal and made two free throws, Embiid blocked a shot. The Sixers had a 27-20 lead when Noel subbed out. 

Noel played a total of 10 minutes with four points, two rebounds and two assists. 

“I thought defensively we had some good spurts,” Noel said. “I think it was just more of an experience, seeing what it looks like …  I think we did and I think it went well. We just have to go from here and see what lineups work better.”


Brown pointed out the Suns’ small lineup created mismatches when Jared Dudley, listed at 6-foot-7, was defending Noel. 

“Defensively, I think that we were OK once it became a halfcourt game,” Brown said. “I think that when you look at transition defense and communication, there are always growing problems. Offensively, they put a smaller guy on Nerlens. … A few times we tried to go to him. I think he’s more capable when he’s sort of moving around and offensive rebounding instead of trying to post feed.”

Embiid recently stated he would like to be paired with Noel. The Sixers have been starting Embiid with Jahlil Okafor, and he wants an opportunity to play with both centers. Brown is maneuvering these combinations while balancing restrictions, conditioning (Noel missed the first 23 games of the season), and being mindful of how it affects other frontcourt players. 

“We’re trying be almost scripted in how you play this, because it’s all so new,” Brown said. “You’re trying to be a little bit rigid of minute restrictions, how many minutes do you think somebody can go once you do play him … In the flow of Joel, Jahlil and Nerlens rotating them around and still trying to get Dario (Saric) and Ersan (Ilyasova) in that natural four spot, it played out like that. It was more of a clock management, more of a duration of how much they can play thing.”