Noel on return: 'Going to be something special'

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Noel on return: 'Going to be something special'

The Sixers are in a strong position to add key pieces to their rebuilding roster with the Nos. 3 and 10 picks in the first round of next week's NBA draft.

The team's front office is doing all of its homework on which players to take with the club's seven total picks, particularly now that center Joel Embiid's injury has likely changed things at the very top of the draft.

Players currently on the roster are also interested in which new faces will be joining the fold, but first and foremost the attention is on taking care of their own craft. That's especially the case for Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick a season ago, who is sharpening his game to finally take the court as a Sixer when the team opens up summer league action next month.

"When I step back on that court it's really going to be something special," Noel said at a youth basketball camp in Lexington, Kentucky. "I've been 100 percent for a while now. I've been working on everything, every part of my game. Just continuing to get better, add size and strength and just continue to improve my game."

Noel has reason to be eager to get on the floor after missing the entire 2013-14 season while rehabbing a torn left ACL suffered during his lone season at the University of Kentucky. The time was also spent reconfiguring the 20-year-old center's shot under the tutelage of Sixers head coach Brett Brown and getting acclimated to NBA life.

Still, Noel explained there is no replacement for taking part in actual live games.

"Probably been the toughest part of my life," he said. "Just not being able to play the game I love. Just coming back from this I've learned not to take things for granted."

Noel will finally get the first chance to start putting his injury behind him when the Sixers begin play in the Orlando Pro Summer League on July 5 against the host Magic.

Sixers using loss to playoff-hungry Pacers as learning moment

Sixers using loss to playoff-hungry Pacers as learning moment

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Pacers' desire to earn a playoff spot, as well as their past experience getting there, was evident in Sunday’s 107-94 win over the Sixers.

The Sixers have been and will continue to run into opponents who are fighting for the postseason. 

The Pacers are caught in a battle for one of the final positions in the Eastern Conference. A victory over the Sixers put them at seventh (37-36), two games ahead of the eighth seed. 

it is a learning experience for the Sixers on what is necessary to play beyond April 12. 

"It's a chance for us to go see what it really takes," Brown said. "We admit all the time, this time of year is different than it is in January. It will be different in a few weeks when you watch the playoffs. It's really a whole different physicality and mindset. You feel it."

The Sixers trailed the Pacers by six points at halftime. The Pacers burst into the third with a 17-4 run, including 14 straight. The Sixers fell into a 25-point deficit in the fourth.

While the field goal shooting was close (42.7 percent by the Pacers compared to 39.8 percent by the Sixers), the Sixers shot 14 for 41 from three. The Pacers were a more efficient 7 for 17. 

"They really did a good job of guarding our guys, guarding our structure," Brown said. "I felt like collectively the lack of pop, the lack of offensive energy, and I give them credit for that, along with one or two miscues on defense."

The Sixers were attacked by a collaborative Pacers effort. Paul George, who Brown considers one of his "personal favorites," scored a game-high 21 points (eight rebounds). In all, seven Pacers scored in double digits. Myles Turner led the defensive charge with a 17-point, 16-rebound double-double. 

"That's a team that's been in the playoffs," T.J. McConnell said. "They have experience. You can't really learn experience. You have to be in the league for a while to gain it. They have that and they showed it tonight."

The Pacers also took care of the details of a box score. They outrebounded the Sixers, 51-48. They also attempted 29 free throws compared to the Sixers' 14 and outscored them by 14 points at the line. 

"It's going to be up another notch because they're trying to make the playoffs," Robert Covington said. "We have to see how they change the pace, how aggressive they are on defense, and see how they execute their sets. That's one thing you learn from."

The Sixers' goal is to get to that stage of contending. They began to build traction in January when they went 10-5. It was a small window into what is required to compile enough wins to reach postseason status. 

"Playing for a playoff spot is what you want to be out there doing," Gerald Henderson said. "I think we still play hard but there was a real ... you see when we were creeping up there in the standings how hard we were really playing every single night and how we were competing every game. We got kind of a feel of that ourselves, but these teams are trying to get in. They're shooting all their bullets. They're fighting for their lives."

Five of the Sixers' last seven games have been against teams ranging from title contenders (Warriors) to those clawing for a postseason spot (Bulls).

In their remaining nine games this season, the Sixers will face the Hawks, Cavaliers, Raptors, Bulls, Bucks and Pacers again. Every game matters for these teams, and it's not going to get any easier for the Sixers.

Best of NBA: Celtics top Heat, inch closer to Cavs for Eastern Conference's top spot

Best of NBA: Celtics top Heat, inch closer to Cavs for Eastern Conference's top spot

BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 30 points, including 20 in the second half, and the Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat 112-108 on Sunday night for their fourth straight victory.

The win moved Boston within percentage points of Cleveland for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have one more victory than the Cavaliers, but also one more loss. Boston (48-26) also equaled its win total from last season.

Jae Crowder added 25 points and six rebounds for the Celtics.

Tyler Johnson had 24 points and James Johnson scored 20 for the Heat, who are a half-game ahead of the Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East. Chicago beat Milwaukee earlier in the day (see full recap).

Klay Thompson sparks Warriors to seventh straight win
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Klay Thompson scored 21 of his 31 points in the second half and the Golden State Warriors pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 106-94 on Sunday for their seventh straight win.

Stephen Curry added 21 points and 11 assists, Andre Iguodala scored 20 and Draymond Green had nine points and seven rebounds as the Warriors (59-14) extended their lead to 2 games over the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the top spot in the West.

The win did more than keep Golden State in front of San Antonio. It also kicked off a stretch of five games in eight days when the Warriors will face playoff contenders Houston (twice), San Antonio and Washington.

Mike Conley scored 29 points, Zach Randolph added 15 and JaMychal Green had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were without center Marc Gasol (left foot strain) (see full recap).

Kings rally from 18 down in fourth to stun Clippers
LOS ANGELES -- Willie Cauley-Stein made a follow shot with two seconds left and the Sacramento Kings rallied from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 98-97 on Sunday.

Down 85-67 early in the fourth, the Kings rallied while Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan were resting. Buddy Hield hit three 3-pointers in the final minutes, pulling the Kings to 96-93 with 2:10 to play.

Griffin made one of two free throws with 1:57 left before the Kings cut it to 97-96 on Langston Galloway's 3-pointer with 1:23 to play.

After Jamal Crawford missed a 3-pointer, Cauley-Stein finished off a fast break with the deciding basket.

Darren Collison led the Kings with 19 points, while Hield added 15 as the Kings snapped a four-game losing streak and won for only the third time in 15 games (see full recap).