MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

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MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

When the Sixers return next season they will have the reigning Rookie of the Year, a healthy No. 6 overall pick from 2013 and a top-five selection from the upcoming draft.

It is exciting to think of the potential in that lineup, but with potential comes expectations and the pressure to live up to them.

Who has the greatest pressure? Is it on Michael Carter-Williams to back up the numbers he averaged this past season? Perhaps it's on Nerlens Noel to be the rim protector he has been touted to be by so many around the league? Or does the pressure sit with the to-be-determined top-five pick in a draft praised for its deep talent?

Carter-Williams thinks the answer is Noel.

“There is a lot of expectations and pressure, but I think the fans are really eager to see what Nerlens brings to the table,” Carter-Williams said Monday after being named Rookie of the Year and prior to having shoulder surgery. “That is pressure, but he is going to have more help. A lot of his help comes from me and I am going to be there to support him.

“I am going to work things out with him when things aren’t going his way. I am going to stay on him and just for him to do all the right things on the court.”

Noel will have the advantage of being one year into his relationship with head coach Brett Brown.

Early on, Brown made the decision that Noel would be part of all team functions from film sessions to travel to pregame activities.

The only part of being an NBA rookie Noel did not experience was playing.

The pressure on MCW will be different than Noel’s because he is now a known quantity. Carter-Williams led his rookie peers in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes per game this season all while growing into a true team leader.

Just as first-year players often hit the rookie wall, a sophomore slump is not unusual. Carter-Williams' maturity and supporting cast will help him navigate the challenges of his second NBA season just as they did his rookie year.

“I think that helped me a lot. Staying grounded is your ability to appreciate the game and work hard on and off the court," he said. "Without being grounded and staying level-headed, I wouldn’t have gotten Rookie of the Year.”

And like Noel, MCW knows what Brown wants and expects from him.

The high draft pick will be in an interesting situation. His rookie performance could be overshadowed by the play of Noel and Carter-Williams and not scrutinized to the same degree.

But fans are expecting the Sixers' draft selection, which will be no lower than No. 5, to be in the starting lineup and contributing at both ends of the floor.

The Sixers did not end up in that situation when they selected Evan Turner second overall in 2010. The Cavaliers certainly did not get that with Anthony Bennett this past season following his No. 1 overall selection.

Turner was the 2010 national college player of the year at Ohio State, where he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists a game.

Those numbers did not follow him to the pros. Turner averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie. People wanted so much more from the No. 2 pick.

Bennett’s experience in Cleveland was worse -- he played in just 52 games and averaged 12.8 minutes coming off the bench with 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds.

With the right pick, the pressure to be better in the 2014-15 season can be shared by all three young Sixers.

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.