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December 20, 2016

Benched last game, Sixers' Nerlens Noel gets some minutes – and a huge ovation

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Sixers center Nerlens Noel did not play in Sunday's 108-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets. He was healthy. He was available. But he was no longer a part of Brett Brown's regular rotation as the team tries to figure out what the hell to do now that all three of their big men are healthy.

On Tuesday night, however, Noel did see the court, playing the final six minutes and 49 seconds of the third quarter after Joel Embiid checked out of the game with foul trouble. You could hear some fans chanting "Nerlens! Nerlens!" but when Brown called on Noel, and the 22-year-old center entered the game, the Wells Fargo Center went nuts.

Wait, can we see that again?

"I just really want to thank the fans for how they've supported me through thick and thin during this whole process and these last four years, period," Noel said after the game. "That meant a lot to me. It's something I really appreciate."

The moment wasn't lost on his coach, either. Not only was Brown not surprised by the ovation, but he was happy for Noel as well.

"I can see why they would do that," Brown said of the fans. "He's been with us now for however many years, and they've see him come in -- Nerlens plays hard; he plays defense. He's appreciated by the city and it didn't surprise me. I was glad they gave him a warm welcome. They should give him a warm welcome."

Noel said he couldn't hear the fans chanting his name before he checked into the game, but once he did, it was impossible to ignore. But did it have an impact on his play against the Pelicans, perhaps giving him a shot of energy after sitting for the first 29-plus minutes of game action?

"I definitely just felt the presence of the fans once I entered the game," Noel said, adding that he "got the chills real quick" before settling in. "They got me going especially and knocked off a little of the nerves so after sitting there watching the game, I was able to just go in and do my thing. 

"And like I said, I just love the fans."

Noel finished four points (2-2 FG) with three rebounds in just under seven minutes and did not return to the floor in the fourth quarter of the 108-93 loss. But he certainly sounded more positive than he did late last week.

Noel's "DNP-Coach's Decision" on Sunday against the Nets came on the heels of his comments immediately following the prior game, when he played just eight minutes the previous game.

"I just want to be able to play basketball," Noel said after the Sixers lost to the Lakers on Friday night. "I don't care who I'm playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player, so I don't know what that's about. So I don't care where, I don't. I don't really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball.

"I mean, I'm too good to be playing eight minutes. Nah, that's crazy, that's crazy, that's crazy. Need to figure this sh!t out. F#$% out of here."

On Monday, Bryan Colangelo tried to offer some clarity on the situation, but there's a reason one of the previous words in this sentence looks different from the rest.

On Tuesday, Noel was back on the court, albeit briefly, trying to make the best out of what is becoming an increasingly bad situation for the Sixers.

"I felt good. It's a little different sitting that long and then just jumping in and shaking everything off," Noel said. "But I went out there and did everything I had to do. Coach gave me an opportunity and I just tried my best to maximize it."

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin