Battered, determined Nerlens Noel continues to push through dreary season

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The last week hasn’t been easy for Nerlens Noel.

He has endured a number of nagging nicks and bruises while going through another maddening losing streak.

The 76ers’ skid reached 13 Wednesday night after their 14-point loss to the Houston Rockets. At 8-56, the Sixers remain the worst team in the NBA.

Noel continues to push through and improve and this latest game was a perfect example.

Noel started at center, scored 17 points, swept nine rebounds and added four assists, two blocked shots and two steals. He grabbed eight offensive rebounds, which showed how active he was against Dwight Howard.

In a lost season, this was a nice step forward for one of their cornerstone players.

“I thought he was good at times and then I thought he was rusty other times with either a pass or hands on balls or finishing around the rim,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “He hasn’t played in a little while. I thought that he was really good at times, no doubt, the way he started the game, attacking offensive boards, making steals. His quickness, his athleticism when he decides to go after a steal in getting in a lane is elite.”

Brown then glanced at the stat sheet and realized there’s a whole new level for his young player to reach.

“When you look at his overall numbers — statistically that reads OK,” Brown said. “But he would know there were periods in that game where we’re going to need a little bit more.”

Noel appeared to be a bit winded at times. But he gave the Sixers a lift on yet another night when they didn’t have Jahlil Okafor.

“I definitely wanted to stay in through those couple minutes I came out in the fourth,” Noel said. “I was really winded and I didn’t want to hurt my team by just not having the energy. I think I’ll be good by next game with a better wind from the four, five days. I’ll be better for it in the coming games.”

Noel has improved in all areas since coming into the league and dealing with an ACL injury. The climb hasn’t been easy. This season especially has been a daunting challenge in every way imaginable. But he presses onward at all times with an eye on the future.

“Like coach says all the time, ‘Put in good days,’” Noel said. “We have to put in good days all the time. It’s about big picture here. It’s not a short-term thing. We have to stay focused on the future while working in the present. I’m doing that while learning all I can along the way to get better and improve.

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