NEW ORLEANS – Nerlens Noel flew to New Orleans on Wednesday and walked through a shootaround with the team Thursday morning. Noel has not played in a game this season because he is recovering from a knee procedure in October. Coach Brett Brown hinted that Noel could be available to play as early as Sunday, when the Sixers will be in Detroit. Noel will not play against the Pelicans on Thursday.
"We want to integrate him with the team, watch a lot of tape," Brown said, "with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon. So all of that where we can ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortable."
The logjam that was forecast in the front court during the offseason, with Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, has gotten even more crowded with the addition of power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Next to Embiid, Ilyasova has been the team's best player of late. Once Okafor recovers from a stomach virus, how Brown will juggle all those bodies as early as Sunday is the biggest question surrounding the team right now.
Brown said if Okafor or Noel were ready to play against New Orleans, he would have started one of them alongside Embiid.
"I think it does all over the place," Brown said of how the team will change when Noel returns. "We were lucky when Robert (Covington) was hurt that we got to move Dario (Saric) down to the three a little bit. Because Dario, if you're not careful, is the one who could take a hit if you've got Jahlil and Nerlens and Joel and we saw again what Richaun (Holmes) can do when he gets a chance to play. And we've seen what Ersan can do.
"So there's ripple effects that influence the design, the structure of the team. It's a challenge when you're 20-some games deep, but it's good. We're getting our players back."
In the meantime, the 76ers will attempt to snap their eight-game losing streak when they face the Pelicans (7-15) at Smoothie King Center. Here are some things to look for:
The play of Embiid and Anthony Davis: Davis is simply tearing up the league this season, leading the NBA in scoring at 31.6 points and blocks at 2.8, while also pulling down 11.4 rebounds. Embiid is rested after not playing Tuesday in Memphis. This is a battle of young stars among NBA big men. Because of many injuries, the Pelicans have struggled with consistency, but Davis isn't a part of that problem. The Sixers will again be without Okafor, who is battling a stomach virus, and Jerryd Bayless, who has a sore wrist. Covington, who had a sprained knee, joined the team and will start. Covering Davis will most likely fall to Ilyasova, with plenty of help from others.
Availability of Gerald Henderson: The veteran guard has been battling a sore hip since the beginning of the season and has had real trouble moving lately. He was able to play only 16 minutes in Tuesday's loss at Memphis, meaning Hollis Thompson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot got some added time. This is a real area of concern for the team because it was thought that Henderson was the Sixers' best perimeter defender and an overall dependable defender.
The play of the point guards: The Pelicans' starting point guard is Tim Frazier. He is one of more than 15 point guards who have directed the Sixers' offense during Brett Brown's three-plus seasons in the job. Frazier is averaging 10.5 points and 7.3 assists in more than 30 minutes a night for New Orleans. During his six-game stint with the Sixers in 2014-15, which included three starts, the Penn State product averaged 5.7 points and 7.2 assists. With Bayless out, Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell have played point guard for the Sixers.