Allen knows Noel can make difference in paint

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Allen knows Noel can make difference in paint

Last season, the Sixers were definitely lean at the center position. Andrew Bynum never played a game, leaving Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen to man the middle -- serviceable backups but not the preferred starter in either case.

Hawes made 40 starts, averaged 11 points, 7.2 rebounds and played 27 minutes a night. Allen was in the starting lineup 37 times. He averaged 5.8 points and five rebounds, playing 21 minutes per game.

Hawes' rebounding average ranked 14th among NBA centers last year, a statistic that would surprise many. Hawes’ 1.4 blocks per game also ranked ninth at his position.

However, basketball fans like big men who can dominate. They see a 7-footer and they expect statistics that are equally as large.

The franchise hopes down the road that Nerlens Noel is that kind of game-changer and the Kentucky product already has a fan in Allen.

“We have the same agent, but in college he was a great shot blocker. He can get up and down the floor,” Allen said of the Noel, who averaged 4.4 blocks per game during his lone season in college. “A rim-protector can do a lot. We haven’t had that the last couple years here. I used to be one in high school but that was facing 6-3 kids back then. It will be great for us.”

Noel is 6-foot-11 but weighs just 219 pounds. It stands to reason that the Sixers' rookie will need to add bulk in order to survive the rigors of playing in the low post in the NBA.

Allen, heading into his third NBA season, is minus two inches and plus 36 pounds on his rookie teammate. But Allen is not ready to say Noel needs to get bigger in order to reach his full potential.

“What he lacks in size he makes up for in length,” Allen said of Noel. “He’s real athletic, so we will have to see how he does.”

We will have to see how Allen does as well. Critics found Allen’s second NBA season to be a disappointment in comparison to his 2012 postseason performance in which he more than held his own against Kevin Garnett in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“I have just been working out,” Allen said of his offseason. “I have taken a vacation here and there, but mostly I have been in the gym.

“They said we (Sixers) are doing a rebuilding process. Now all our trust is in Sam Hinkie, with the whole coaching search and things like that. We are behind him 100 percent.”

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA's best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn't dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8 (see full recap).

Scoreboard malfunction, quiet crowd don’t stop Wizards’ rally
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming a sluggish start in front of a sparse, silent crowd and with a malfunctioning scoreboard, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Nuggets 92-85 on Thursday night, thanks mainly to Bradley Beal's 26 points and Denver's season-high 29 turnovers.

John Wall scored only 15 points one game after a career-best 52, but nine came in the fourth quarter for Washington, which trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

With starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay inactive because of what the team said was a sprained right ankle, the Nuggets went 5 1/2 minutes without a point in the fourth quarter.

In that final period, they had 10 of their turnovers and shot 1 for 14 on 3-pointers -- including 0 for 4 in one last-minute possession (see full recap).

Gasol, clutch free throws lift Grizzlies over
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game's final six points to seal Memphis' fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).