76ers

Nerlens Noel goes off on role: 'They need to figure this s--- out'

Nerlens Noel goes off on role: 'They need to figure this s--- out'

Nerlens Noel has played only two games this season after recovering from elective knee surgery, and already the frustrations he expressed about the Sixers' roster at the start of training camp have come to the surface.

After playing only 8:02 — all in the first half — of the Sixers' 100-89 loss to the Lakers on Friday night (see Instant Replay), Noel voiced his frustration with his lack of playing time and constitution of the roster. He scored two points (1 for 4 from the field) with five rebounds and a blocked shot. 

“I just want to play basketball,” Noel said in response to whether or not he wanted to be paired with another center. “I don’t really care who I’m playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player so I don’t know what that’s about. I don’t really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball. I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

Noel was listed as questionable throughout the day and was cleared to play just over 30 minutes before game time. He had suffered a sprained left ankle in his return on Sunday and sat out Wednesday’s game. 

Fellow big men Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor played 29 and 24 minutes, respectively. Even with Noel clocking eight minutes, Richaun Holmes did not play.

“It was a matter of minutes,” head coach Brett Brown said. “I felt like when they started going small something had to give. And Nerlens was a casualty to that, as well as his health is not 100 percent."

The Sixers have been trying to maneuver their overcrowded frontcourt, a challenge that’s carried over from last season. One approach has been playing (and starting) Embiid and Okafor together. Brown has the option of trying a new duo of Embiid and Noel, or giving Noel and Okafor another look. On Friday, Noel played the traditional four-five combination with Ersan Ilyasova. 

Noel understands Brown has a tall task on his hands trying to get all his players on the court with only so many minutes to go around. Playing two centers has also meant taking Ersan Ilyasova out of the starting lineup and shifting Dario Saric to small forward in many instances. 

Noel is not surprised by the current obstacles created by the abundance of bigs. Prior to his return, he commented, “I don't think the roster's changed” in regard to the logjam. 

“I anticipated this,” Noel said. “Like I said before, I think it’s just too much on the coach’s plate. Pretty much, I think like I said, the guys that run the operations, they do what they do.”

Noel is not hiding his strong opinion of the state of the Sixers. At the same time, there is only so much he can do. His job is to play basketball, not make roster changes. 

“I control what I can control,” Noel said. “I’m that smart. I know I’m still in a situation. The smartest thing I can do is control what I can control and work hard and work on the things I need to work on. But like I said, it’s just too much on the coach’s plate. So regardless of who handles it, I think there’s a lot of frustration.”

But if it were up to Noel, what would he like to see happen?

“Ideally, I’d just like to be playing basketball,” he said. “Just doing my thing carefree.”

Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Updated: 8:27 p.m. 

The importance of the Sixers’ 107-98 win over the Wizards on Wednesday pales in comparison to Ben Simmons’ status. 

The two-time All-Star suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. Joel Embiid (30 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Sixers, who improved to 41-27 and next face the Magic on Friday night. His dunk with 19.3 seconds to go finally sealed the victory over the 24-44 Wizards. 

Here are observations on the game: 

Simmons’ early exit 

Simmons (eight points on 2 for 10 shooting, six rebounds, four assists) headed to the locker room in the middle of the third period. He flexed his left leg after throwing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor. 

That injury clearly casts a shadow on the game for the Sixers given Simmons’ obvious, immense value as a versatile offensive piece and excellent defender. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Simmons has no swelling or pain in his left knee and that “early indications … are encouraging.”

"I’m sure the club will make some announcement about Ben’s departure from the floor soon," Brett Brown said after the game. "But as far as knowing more than that, I really don’t. I’m obviously very curious to hear what that news is.”

Inconsistent (but better) defense 

As far as Brown is concerned, the explanation for most of the Sixers’ defensive issues in their first two seeding games is simple. 

“When we choose to play defense on a more repetitive, regular basis — not (just) the third period and don’t pay attention to the first half, as an example — when we get that disposition, that physicality, I think things are going to connect,” he said before the game.

The collective effort and focus was solid in the first quarter against the Wizards but lapsed at times afterwards. Shake Milton was beaten off the dribble on several occasions in the first half. Tobias Harris ceded an offensive rebound to Troy Brown Jr. early in the third quarter, and Brown laid it in to tie the game at 58 apiece during a 23-11 Wizards run to begin the third period. Overall, the Sixers are playing below their potential defensively and will pay in the playoffs if they don’t elevate their level. 

Simmons, of course, is a main reason why the team’s defensive ceiling seemed so high entering this season. 

Trimming the rotation 

Brown decided to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine against the Wizards, leaving Raul Neto out. Mike Scott (right knee soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) remained sidelined. 

The Sixers’ head coach acknowledged there are still rotation-related questions he’s assessing ahead of the playoffs. 

“I think the desire to play 10 initially, I don’t regret,” he said pregame. “I’ve admitted I’m trying to learn stuff and keep the team’s spirit at a place that I think ends up important. I do think that it has been difficult to find real minutes for 10 players — it’s just so much that can go around. … Ultimately, you get to the playoffs, it’s certainly going to be nine.” 

Alec Burks was the sole backup point guard and also played on the wing in a lineup alongside Simmons, Harris, Horford and Josh Richardson. He had nine points, two assists and no turnovers in 19:34, with his playing time extended because of Simmons’ injury.

He knows what’s coming 

All of the double teams Embiid is encountering come as no surprise to the big man.

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled,” he said Monday night, “so I’ve gotta just figure that out … and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Washington’s double teams were predictably frequent and aggressive, and Embiid again handled them reasonably well. With the exception of one first-quarter play where he turned toward the baseline on a fadeaway jumper attempt straight into Isaac Bonga, he took what the defense presented to him. 

And, when the Wizards couldn’t send an extra body, he recognized his advantage and went straight to work. 

Milton (14 points, four assists) and Richardson (15 points, three assists) helped Embiid out by hitting a couple of jumpers down the stretch. 

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Ben Simmons forced to leave game vs. Wizards with injury

Ben Simmons forced to leave game vs. Wizards with injury

The Sixers haven’t gotten off a great start in Disney World and an injury to one of their All-Stars won’t help matters.

Ben Simmons left Wednesday’s game against the Wizards with a left knee injury and did not return, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Simmons appeared to favor the leg on an entry pass to Al Horford late in the third quarter.

Simmons could be seen walking gingerly to the locker room for further examination. A few moments later, we saw GM Elton Brand walk into the locker room.

There is some positive news, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The 24-year-old has had a tough start in the NBA’s official return but is integral to the Sixers’ possible playoff success. Simmons is one of the most dangerous players in the NBA in transition and is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

We’ll have more updates on Simmons’ injury as they’re provided.

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