Let's say the Sixers' glass is half full ...

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Let's say the Sixers' glass is half full ...

I recently had a conversation with someone who works for the Sixers. He had a lot to say. This was the short version: The team’s glass “isn’t half empty, it’s half full.” He actually used those words.

Cheery clichés generally make me recoil, but he’s a naturally positive guy so I let it go. The attendant implication was that I’m a negative guy. It hurt the black cavity where my feelings should be.

Ah well. If you can’t beat 'em, pander to 'em. (Pretty sure that’s how the old adage goes.) As the Sixers (22-29) prepare to return to the court on Wednesday, here are some (mostly) positive points. Also: rainbows and unicorns and puppies! Hooray.

Lavoy Allen: He’s averaging 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.3 minutes this season. All of those numbers are up from a year ago. If/when Andrew Bynum returns, Allen will likely see his court time dip and his bench time increase, but less responsibility might actually help his game. He’s been better as a reserve than he was when Doug Collins used him as a starter earlier in the year.

Kwame Brown: Oh, man. Already testing me here. OK. Staying positive. He’s 6-foot-11, 290 pounds. He has been consistently large all season. Every night, every game, he shows up and he’s big. And he convinced the Sixers to give him a contract with a player option for the second year. That’s impressive.

Andrew Bynum: After a long, long (long) wait, Bynum said he hopes to practice in the next week or two. Rinse. Repeat. Ugh. But we’re being positive, so … The Sixers are 20th in rebounds and 25th in points in the paint. Bynum would obviously help in both areas. When he’s right, he’s one of the top-three centers in the NBA. Plus, he has a sweet Pop-A-Shot game, which is important.

Spencer Hawes: Some people (not me) might point out that a 7-foot-1 center should spend less time taking mid- and long-range jumpers and more time down low. Some people (not me) might note that Hawes is a large human who is only averaging 6.4 rebounds, 50th in the NBA. Some people (not me) might even question his sometimes-suspect defense. Some people (not me) are such downers. Hawes had that sweet quasi-mullet earlier this year, and he wore an excellent headband too. What more do you want?

Jrue Holiday: Unquestionably the best player on the team. Among all NBA point guards, he’s second in minutes per game, fourth in assists and fifth in points. And he’s only 22 years old. This season marked his first All-Star game, but it won’t be his last.

Royal Ivey: His name is Royal Ivey and he’s a professional basketball player. As lives go, his is pretty good.

Jeremy Pargo: The Sixers recently signed him for the remainder of the season. In his first game with Philly, Pargo had 12 points, six assists and four rebounds. And then there’s this.

Arnett Moultrie: There were high expectations for Moultrie. The Sixers acquired him from Miami, who took him with the 27th overall pick after the former Mississippi state power forward led the SEC in rebounding. Moultrie struggled to start the season and was sent to the D-League. He could have gotten discouraged. He could have pouted. He didn’t do any of those things. To his credit, he’s done what’s been asked of him without becoming a problem in the locker room. Acting like a professional is underrated. And with Thaddeus Young out (hamstring), Moultrie had some solid outings. He put up a career-high 12 points against the Pacers, and he grabbed 21 total rebounds in three games against the Bobcats, Clippers and Bucks.

Jason Richardson: He’s out for the season (knee). But –- as the Sixers reminded everyone all year -- he’s still No. 13 on the NBA’s all-time list of most three-pointers made. Huzzah.

Evan Turner: He’s having his best season as a pro. Turner is averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 36.2 minutes -- all career highs. By his own admission, he needs to be more consistent -- not taking those four or five random bad shots per game would be a start –- but at least he’s aware of it.

Damien Wilkins: He’s NBA royalty. Son of Gerald, nephew of Dominique. That’s good work if you can get it.

Dorell Wright: He’s starting to get more court time, and he plays better defense than some people on this list (some people who might be listed directly below). He once led the NBA in three-pointers. The guy has more skill than he’s been allowed to show so far.

Nick Young: Since getting benched, Young is suddenly playing better. Maybe all his detractors were wrong about him.

Thaddeus Young: After sitting on the bench for long stretches against the Celtics in the playoffs, Young bulked up in the offseason and dedicated himself to playing better defense and rebounding (he leads the team with 7.4 per game). He’s been excellent this year. It’s a shame he hurt his hamstring. At least the other one still works.

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).