Brown knows Sixers must be smart with Noel

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Brown knows Sixers must be smart with Noel

After talking with reporters for a few minutes at practice Tuesday, Sixers head coach Brett Brown, much to his surprise, hadn't been asked about Nerlens Noel.

So Brown brought up the topic himself.

“Anyone want to talk about Nerlens?” Brown said with a smile.

Less than 24 hours earlier, before the Sixers' preseason loss to Cleveland in Columbus, Ohio, Brown had revealed that he didn't expect Noel to play this season. Noel, the Sixers' prized draft-night acquisition, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in February.

“I want to talk about Nerlens," Brown said. "Of course we want him back, but that decision is going to be made by a lot of smarter people then me. Doctors, trainers and the obvious people, and so who knows what is going to happen with Nerlens? I've gone to media training this morning before I came here, and we hope he can come back. So since you didn’t ask about Nerlens, I thought I would just bring it up."

It's a worthy topic given what Noel represents for fans this franchise: hope.

"We get it. I get it. The coaching staff, teammates -- we want to see him back," Brown said. "How can you not want to see that man back? With his bounce and size and athleticism? ... We want to see him. I get the disappointment, and so the club will make a responsible decision based on his future."

We can only hope the long season doesn’t steal Brown’s humor and his willingness to be forthcoming. The Sixers are building a reputation, and it is that they are in for a long year. Throughout this preseason various scouts and player personnel people around the league have stopped to share that sentiment.

It will be a different year for sure. Wins will be scarce. When the Sixers first decided to start from scratch by trading Jrue Holiday on draft night, fans applauded the boldness of president/general manger Sam Hinkie.

But seeing the product during the preseason -- they're 2-4 -- and learning that Noel may indeed be sidelined for the entire year has those same fans disgruntled before opening night has even arrived.

It wasn't the first time Brown said he wasn’t expecting Nerlens to participate. During Saturday's practice at the Palestra, he said as much -- but included two other teammates in his statement.

“You can carry a roster of 15. So right off the bat you start the season with four of them out,” Brown said. “Nerlens, Kwame (Brown), Arnett (Moultrie) and Jason Richardson. And there is no daylight except Kwame at some point. The other ones are done.”

The other ones are done.

Brown doesn't expect Noel, Moultrie (ankle) or Richardson (knee) to play this year.

I understand that Moultrie and Richardson being sidelined for the season resonates little with fans. I also understand the instinct to think Noel is another Andrew Bynum situation -- the acquisition of damaged goods.

Unfortunately, jumping to that conclusion is not accurate. Their injuries are different; their bodies are different; their ages are different.

And while we are on the subject of Bynum, nothing was more frustrating than the false hope that was continually put out there last season that Bynum was progressing and would soon take the court.

Maybe Bynum really did experience multiple setbacks, but it came across as a façade.

This year’s team will struggle, and even Noel can’t change that. Not as a rookie who, if they did bring him back, hasn’t played basketball in a year.

The good news is plenty of NBA players have recovered from torn ACLs: Al Jefferson, David West, Baron Davis, Jamal Crawford -- and hopefully we are seeing the same for Derrick Rose.

Noel’s time will come to join that list, but like those who recovered before him, the timetable is lengthy and has its stages.

Be patient.

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

The Sixers (15-27) on Tuesday night open their latest back-to-back set against the LA Clippers (30-16) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing in action
The Sixers are used to Joel Embiid missing at least one game of back-to-back sets. However, they will have to forge ahead without him in both contests coming up on consecutive days.

Embiid will miss the Sixers' games on Tuesday and Wednesday after suffering a left knee contusion in the team's 93-92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The matchups will mark three straight absences for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he was sidelined for the Sixers' blowout loss in Atlanta to the Hawks on Saturday night.

The Sixers haven't exactly been able to survive without Embiid's production this season. They are 2-10 minus the Rookie of the Year frontrunner and have allowed 106.5 points in those games.

Brett Brown challenged his team to perform better — particularly on defense — during this upcoming stint without Embiid.

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said after practice Monday. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

2. The Blake Show is back
While the Sixers will be without their star big man in Tuesday's tilt, the Clippers are expected to get one of theirs back in their lineup.

Blake Griffin is likely to return to action against the Sixers after missing 18 games following right knee surgery.

Griffin was averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds this season as the Clippers jumped out to a 20-6 record. Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from the knee on Dec. 19, and the Clips have recorded just a 10-8 mark since.

With fellow superstar Chris Paul now sidelined with an injured thumb, getting the five-time All-Star Griffin back should be a major boost for the Clippers.

3. Take care
The Clippers may not be the force they once were in the open court (15th in the NBA with 12.7 fastbreak points per game this season), but that doesn't mean they still can't revert to their Lob City ways in the blink of an eye.

That could be the case on Tuesday if the Sixers continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.

The Sixers, who are last in the league with 17.1 turnovers per game, have somehow been even worse during this recent string of success. They have committed 19.4 turnovers a night over the last five games and 17.8 during the last 10 contests.

The Sixers have been able to survive thanks to their active defense creating opportunities on offense and some clutch shooting. However, with Embiid sidelined and facing a Clippers team that ranks in the top five in field-goal and three-point percentage, those miscues may come back to haunt the Sixers.

4. Injuries
Okafor (knee) is probable. Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Griffin (knee) is probable. Paul (thumb) and Brice Johnson (back) are out for the Clippers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine straight games to the Clippers.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during January.

• DeAndre Jordan has averaged a double-double of 11.3 points and 12.8 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

6 keys for Sixers to continue success minus Joel Embiid

6 keys for Sixers to continue success minus Joel Embiid

The Sixers' recent momentum has hit a road bump, one they will have to overcome for at least the next two games. Joel Embiid (left knee contusion) is expected to miss Tuesday and Wednesday's matchups. The Sixers are accustomed to playing without him in one game of a back-to-back series, but two straight nights is a new scenario. 

The Sixers are 2-10 without Embiid this season. They don't want to lose the steam that has them 7-3 in their last 10 games, but racking up wins minus their standout rookie has been a looming challenge. 

Here are six steps the Sixers can take while Embiid is sidelined.

Maintain a defensive mindset
While Embiid is the Sixers’ leading scorer, the team gives up a massive amount on the defensive end when he is not in the game. Sixers opponents are averaging 97.7 points with Embiid compared to 107.3 points without him, according to NBA.com. 

Brown is looking toward his other centers to lead the defensive charge. Nerlens Noel has increased his rebounding average to 6.8 boards over the last five games (including 12 against the Wizards without Embiid). Jahlil Okafor is averaging 5.0 rebounds in his previous three starts, but his strengths have always come on the offensive end. 

“I think you go with Jahlil and Nerlens and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us,” Brett Brown said. “The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

Find rhythm in rotations
The Sixers hit their stride after Brown narrowed the rotation to 10 players. He locked in a starting lineup of T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid.

Sergio Rodriguez, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson, Dario Saric, and Noel rounded out the second unit. 

Of course, those looks change without Embiid. Okafor gets back into the lineup as a starter and becomes a focal point of the offense. 

Brown decided to change up the reserves on Saturday when he sat Rodriguez and shifted Stauskas to the backup point to give Luwawu-Cabarrot more of an opportunity. 

“It gives you confidence when the coach believes in you,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “You know that you’re going to be on the court and you don’t have to think maybe if you do a mistake you’re going to come back on the bench. You can play more free.” 

Even though the Sixers are in an experimental phase, maintaining clarity of the rotation will help them form cohesion on the court without Embiid. 

Move the ball
Brown pointed to ball movement as the difference-maker in the Sixers’ win over the Trail Blazers on Friday. He highlighted the stat of 36 made field goals off 26 assists.

The team shared the offensive burden when Embiid went to the bench because of his injury. Five other players (Covington, Henderson, Luwawu-Cabarrot, McConnell and Noel) combined for the final points of the game. 

The offense has become stagnant at times, though, when Embiid is not on the court and the Sixers do not have a main target. 

“It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard,” Brown said. “That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. ... You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Stay composed down the stretch
The Sixers have pulled off three recent buzzer-beating wins, a strong feat for a team that struggled greatly down the stretch at the start of the season. One of the most impressive aspects of the Sixers’ victory against the Blazers was their poise and discipline without Embiid as the game went into crunch time.

The Sixers will have to buckle down and stick with the mindset that put them in the position for those game-winning shots by Covington (twice) and McConnell. That means limiting turnovers, which have caught up with the Sixers in many instances. Each player also must stay ready if they find the ball in their hands for the final bucket. 

Okafor make an impact
There’s no question Okafor can score. The absence of Embiid creates the chance for him to be the main offensive option when relieved of his DNPs. Okafor is averaging 16.0 points in his last three starts in place of Embiid. He attempted 16 field goals in his first of those three, but since has taken a total of 13 tries in his last two starts. 

“You can’t expect to come out of a timeout and have a play that gets you the ball,” Brown said. “He’s got to create his own offense. Joel Embiid has to create his own offense. (Tim) Duncan used to have to create his own offense (when Brown was on the Spurs’ coaching staff). ... There’s a self-participation where we want them running the floor and demanding deeper catches and touches and rolling harder. ... If he’s ‘the guy,’ you’ve got to get more touches and you’ve got to get more shots.”

Okafor has maintained a fundamental approach to his starting opportunities. 

“Playing as hard as I can, just trying to help the team win in every way that I can and give 110 percent effort,” Okafor said of his approach.

Seize the opportunity
Injuries have created opportunities for the Sixers of late: Rodriguez-McConnell, Henderson-Stauskas, Embiid-Okafor. 

While Okafor is the most obvious Sixer to receive more playing time without Embiid, others can also step up in his absence. Players who amp up their games on both ends of the floor have the chance to emerge while the team is looking for contributors to fill the major voids left by Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way? It hurts the team,” Brown said. “You’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil; this is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes. 

“Setback doesn’t immediately come to my mind because I think there are other positives given where we’re at given the stages of our program. It’s not like we’re trying to hold on to second in the East. We’re still growing our program, we’re still experimenting, we’re still developing. We can never forget that.”