76ers

Sixers' Nerlens Noel makes most of playing time in loss to Jazz

Sixers' Nerlens Noel makes most of playing time in loss to Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Nerlens Noel got the extended playing time he had been eyeing this season. He clocked 22 minutes on Thursday, more than doubling his season-high of 10, against the Jazz. 

“I think I played alright,” Noel said after the Sixers’ 100-83 loss (see Instant Replay). “I think I should have finished a little more around the basket. But I think I went out there and did what I had to do.”

Noel scored 14 points (6 for 10 from the field), including six in the third quarter. He grabbed six rebounds, picked off a steal and committed two fouls. 

Noel was expected to see an increase in playing time in the absence of Joel Embiid, who sat out on the first leg of the back-to-back set. Jahlil Okafor’s early foul trouble also impacted Noel’s role. Even though Brett Brown intended to utilize Noel in four- or five-minute segments, standard for a player working his way back on the Sixers, Noel ended up logging eight straight in the first quarter. 

“Fatigue got the better of Nerlens at times, but he’s getting a lot better,” Brown said. “He’s getting more comfortable with play calls, and I thought he did a decent job.”

The Sixers have been keeping a close eye on Noel’s level of fitness. He missed the first 23 games of the season and their crammed schedule has not allowed for a lot of practice time to work on conditioning. Brown kept that in mind when managing his minutes. 

“I think I went through some stretches where I was able to keep it up, especially in this altitude,” Noel said. “Just getting up and down, I think Coach did a good job of keeping an eye on me.”

After showing signs of fatigue in the first half, Noel looked more energized once he got into a rhythm. He set out to play physical and be active at the rim against Utah’s towering bigs. 

“Nerlens was Nerlens [at the basket],” Brown said. “When you say what is your identifiable NBA skill, it’s clear that he’s an A-plus athlete that’s got a bounce. He can jump twice as well as anybody in the NBA. I thought his active hands and mobility at the back of things started to remind us of what we saw last year.”

Last season, Noel ranked third on the team with 29.3 minutes per game. Having him on the court for more than a few sporadic minutes was a welcome sign to the players. 

"It was good to see him energized, do his thing," Okafor said. “He’s been such a great teammate to us, so it was good to see him out there."

The Sixers needed a significant minutes contribution from Noel against the Jazz. In addition to being without Embiid, backup center Richaun Holmes is not with the team because he is following the NBA’s concussion protocol.

Noel's presence helped the Sixers carry a four-point lead into the fourth quarter before the team was outscored 30-9 in the final frame of the defeat. Still, the big man was glad he was given an extended look to show what he can do again on the court.

“I’m just thankful,” Noel said. “Coach gave me an opportunity and I wanted to go out there and play my game. That’s what my focus was the whole night. Whenever I was in there, I wanted to contribute to the team’s winning efforts. When I wasn’t, I wanted to support my teammates to the best of my ability.” 

Noel has now played 61 minutes this season, one-third of them coming on Thursday. His performance against the Jazz is a step in the right direction for the big man, who is eager to stay out on the court. 

"You don’t just click your heels and come in and play NBA basketball; it takes time," Brown said. "You’ve got to get a condition base. You need to have an awareness of what people are running. He’s doing a great job of doing that. Because of that, you could see signs, great signs tonight from Nerlens."

Sixers at Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (7-5) will look to get back into the win column in Cleveland when they take on the Cavaliers (4-7) this afternoon.

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Time to get right

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but man, the Sixers’ losses have been particularly brutal. On Friday night, they held a nine-point lead with 7:20 to go but gave up a 12-2 run and eventually lost in overtime to the Thunder.

The Sixers have glaring issues — especially in their starting five — but Brett Brown feels like he knows what they are.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

We'll see.

Taking care of business

This Cavs team isn’t as bad as perhaps we all thought coming into this season. They start two extremely young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but they’re still flanked by veteran bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

Cleveland also gave the Sixers all they could handle earlier this week — especially veteran guard Jordan Clarkson (20 points). The Sixers were able to sneak out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 98-97 win. Then again, when is the last time this team played a game that wasn’t close?

While the Cavs are maybe better than anticipated, this is a team the Sixers should be able to get well against. On Tuesday, they held Cleveland scoreless for over three minutes to close out the game. They need to bring that for 48 minutes and get right with a win over a team they’re clearly more talented than. 

Sorting out the bench

Furkan Korkmaz was scorching hot for a six-game stretch. He shot 50.9 percent from three and averaged 13.8 points in mostly bench minutes. In his last three games, he’s just 4 of 16 from distance. The issue with Korkmaz is if he’s not hitting shots, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. You saw Oklahoma City pick on him in overtime after Tobias Harris fouled out.

Korkmaz has been getting the most minutes off Brown’s bench recently. Should he be? Rookie Matisse Thybulle got off to a roaring start, but has looked overmatched offensively. With that said, he’s just so special defensively, Brown should deal with the growing pains on the other end. In games Thybulle has played at least 12 minutes, the Sixers are 6-1.

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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