Ex-Sixer Sam Young fitting in with Pacers

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Ex-Sixer Sam Young fitting in with Pacers

Sam Young has found a home again.

At least for now, that is.

The Indiana Pacers re-signed Young last month three weeks after releasing him. The move was made after Young injured his left ankle during a practice in January. With Young’s contract on the verge of being guaranteed, Indiana made the tough decision to part ways.

But it didn’t last long -- head coach Frank Vogel made sure it didn’t.

Vogel said he told the Pacers front office that he was not on board with releasing Young if it meant they wouldn’t bring him back.

“Really excited,” Vogel said of Young’s return. “As soon as we got him back healthy, we signed him, got him right back in the rotation.”

Young, who last season was traded to the Sixers from Memphis for the rights to forward Ricky Sánchez, is helping the Pacers in the area they are best -- defense.

The Pacers have one of NBA’s best defenses statistically. Indiana is second in the league in points allowed, averaging 90.3, holding their opponents to an NBA-best 42.1 percent shooting (32.5 percent three-point shooting), and first in rebounding, averaging 45.4 per game.

Vogel admired Young’s attitude with defense, which is one reason why he’s averaging 15.5 minutes per game. That’s more playing time than Young has seen since 2010-11, his sophomore season with the Grizzles.

“He shows it,” Young said of Vogel’s confidence in him. “When a coach consistently tells you that what you bring to the table is needed on the team, that’s pretty much everything you need.”

You won’t see Young light up the scoreboard -- most games his name probably wont be mentioned at all (unless he utilizes that highly effective pump fake, which Young said he’s never worked on). However, the University of Pittsburgh product does his damage quietly.

“He’s just a winning player” Vogel said, “that does a lot of little things. Not a guy that’s going to go out and put up 20 points a game, obviously, but make all the hustle plays.”

Heading into the matchup with the Sixers on Wednesday, the Pacers were riding a four-game winning streak with wins over Detroit, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta.

Knowing Miami is the best team in the Eastern Conference, one would probably guess if there was a blowout in that win streak it didn't come against the reigning NBA champions. 

That guess would be wrong.

The Pacers blew out the Heat, 102-89, last week and Young’s stat line wasn’t a key factor. But what he did in his 11:21 minutes of playing time was make life tough for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. No, he didn’t completely shut down James, who finished with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting, but anytime a team has a player like Young who can challenge James just a little, the Pacers will take it.

In fact, one reason Vogel was so vocal about bringing back Young was his ability to guard guys like James and Carmelo Anthony, two of the best scorers in the league.

Told of this, Young smiled and said: “Before I stepped on the floor to play a game, they’ve been emphasizing that. I already know, when the big guns come out, I’ll be on them.”

Young described his brief time here in Philly as “incomplete.” When the trade occurred, Sixers head coach Doug Collins admired Young’s defense. He thought adding another wing defender would only help the Sixers down the stretch. And maybe it would’ve, had the Sixers beaten the Boston Celtics and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where the Heat awaited.

Young played in 14 games and averaged a little over nine minutes with the Sixers, seeing the majority of his playing time at the end of games.

“Before I even got on the floor, we had a [losing streak],” Young said of his lack of playing time with the Sixers. “So when you have that streak like that, red flags go up. You don’t want to start taking a chance now. I came in, and I had to kind of sit back and wait until the team started to play [well]. … Just learning the plays and getting comfortable in the system, it wasn’t enough time.”

And of his new team, Young seems comfortable. When he was released, he never left Indiana and continued to work out at the team’s facility before getting re-signed.

Asked if he feels the Pacers are the team for him moving forward, Young said, “Hopefully. And I hope they feel the same.”

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).