Noel increases rehab activity, dunking off rolls

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Noel increases rehab activity, dunking off rolls

To some it might be considered a tease. To the Sixers it was just the next step in a grueling rehab process.

Nerlens Noel spent time on Thursday working against assistant coach Greg Foster in the half court, rolling to the basket and catching the ball before throwing down a dunk.

“I think the message is two-fold,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “You would be as excited as I am to project out what could be in Nerlens Noel. But don’t get tricked. There is a long ways to go and when it happens is anybody’s guess right now.”

Noel, the 6-foot-11 rookie who was selected sixth overall last June, is working his way back on the hardwood following ACL surgery almost a year ago. The moves he was displaying on Thursday were an increase in activity.

“He is going a little harder,” Brown said. “He is going against a little bit more weight, so yes that is an upgrade from what he has been doing,”

“The stuff you are seeing is slow and shadowboxing. He is not feeling bodies or making sharp cuts. When he gets medically able to do that, cleared to do that, then you start going five-on-zero, one-on-one, five-on-five and up and down.”

The team will not say if Noel is out for the entire season. The Sixers have 32 games remaining, but there is still a long checklist ahead of Noel before he would make his NBA debut.

Whenever he does get back on the court, the Sixers know what they will be getting in Noel. He is definitely a rim protector. That was shown when he blocked 4.4 shots a game during his lone season at the University of Kentucky.

The Sixers believe that will be the first part of Noel’s skill set to resurface when he does play in a game.

“Athletically what he can do, how he gets from point A to point B, how he gets up and down and the fact that he can do it twice,” Brown marveled. “He can hit the floor and go back up. That is just how he was born and that will come back to him instinctively.”

That shot-blocking ability may come naturally, but Noel’s own jump shot is still a work in progress.

The big man can often be seen shooting prior to games with Brown. The difference in his mechanics is night and day.

However, Brown likes to think that what Noel has learned off the court will have a greater impact on the 19-year-old’s future.

“His biggest improvement is going to be him absorbing the NBA landscape,” Brown explained. “Hearing a coach, hearing players, experiencing good and bad. Really just him being able to take a step back and be able to observe things on protocol. Being on time for the weight room and film sessions. All those things are so important.”

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”