NEW YORK >> Injured late in his only college season at Kentucky then unavailable for his entire NBA rookie year, Nerlens Noel entered this season with a reputation to correct. Sunday at Madison Square Garden, he made one more substantial stride in that direction.
A night after suffering a swollen eye and reporting blurred vision after a collision in Charlotte with Noah Vonleh, Noel was cleared to play for the Sixers against the Knicks â¦ and, as usual, answered the call.
âI'm feeling good,â Noel said before the game. âI'm going to go out here and play hard and do what I've got to do.â
So there Noel was, reporting no deficient vision and playing his 74th game of the season, his 70th as a starter. He has missed just four games and none since an upper respiratory infection cost him a Jan. 21 appearance against the Knicks.
âHe had blurred vision but we iced it,â Brett Brown said. âHe went overboard getting treatment so he could play. And we are excited to have him back.â
With the troubles at Kentucky, then with his redshirt rookie season, there would be a burden on Noel to prove he was not brittle.
As the Sixers entered their final five games, that was no longer an issue.
âThe candid conversation that we have with our players daily is that there are no healthy players in the NBA,â Brown said. âAnd there especially are no healthy players in the NBA in April. So the sports science and the accumulation of effort that people put into their bodies through the course of the season enables them to play in April at a high standard, and then May and, we can dream, June.
âSo the education has been for our 20-year-olds to be able to navigate through an NBA season and to keep on track with your body. And for Nerlens at 214, 216 pounds to play the quantity of games at the position he plays, that's a statement about durability first. And I also think it's a toughness that has enabled him to do that. Because he, too, like everybody, has been injured. And he could have shut it down and he didn't.â
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Jason Richardson (left knee) did not play in Charlotte, but was available Sunday.
âI'm good to go,â Richardson said. âI can't go two games in a row. They wanted me to sit out yesterday and play today.
âI could play two games in a row. But just to be safe it isn't really worth the risk of doing that.â
Richardson, 34, had not played since 2013 before rejoining the Sixers in February. Entering the game Sunday, he had played 16 games, starting 14.
âSince I have been back, I think I have only had three or four practices,â the 14th-year veteran said. âWe haven't really practiced that much. So it doesn't make sense to even try to attempt it.â
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Knicks coach Derek Fisher said he watched the NCAA's Final Four casually, even mixing in a workout during the games, missing key parts, keeping perspective, insisting that it is difficult to project how any college player will translate to the pros.
Brown will watch the NCAA Final Monday a different way.
âThrough business eyes,â the Sixers' coach said. âI love the sport. I get as much a kick out of watching my son's 10-year-old team, and I'm serious, this may sound sad, as I do coaching here. I just love watching my kid play. You watch basketball at all levels. You watch that game (Monday) and you think ahead. You are going to think about what might happen with some of the players on the court who could be a part of our team. Who knows?â
NBA rules prohibit Brown from discussing college players by name.
âAt this stage of my coaching career, it is more than saying, 'This is a great game,'â Brown said. âI don't see it predominately through that lens as much anymore. I am guessing and dreaming and projecting out.â
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NOTES: Luc Mbah a Moute was not scheduled to play Sunday. âWe wanted to give his shoulder a rest,â Brown said, âand his body a rest.â â¦ Thomas Robinson (knee) was also unavailable, Brown said â¦ Isaiah Canaan (sprained right foot) did not dress â¦ The Sixers' next game will be Wednesday against the visiting Washington Wizards.