As the NBA regular season winds down, there are really only two reasons to watch the 76ers play these days. One is to see the continuing and stunning progress of center Nerlens Noel in a rookie season that gets more impressive by the month.
The other is to see the opponent, especially one that is primed with a full supply of legitimate NBA talent.
Both circumstances intersected when the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Sixers, 119-98, on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
This game can be summed up by two words - third quarter.
The Sixers fought back late in the first half and trailed by 62-54 at the intermission.
After three, it was Clippers 94, Sixers 68.
Noel is averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds in 15 games this month. He finished with a career-high 30 points along with 14 rebounds in an intriguing matchup with one of the NBA's best defensive centers, DeAndre Jordan.
"When you face guys the second time, you always want to step it up," said Noel, who had seven points and 12 rebounds the first time he faced the Clippers.
It was his 16th double-double of the season and eighth in March.
Noel credits, among others, point guard Ish Smith, who signed with the Sixers on Feb. 22.
"It is really on my teammates, especially Ish," he said about his improvement. "He does a great job facilitating the offense."
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jordan has a game similar to Noel's in which he relies on his athletic ability and gets many of his points on dunks.
Jordan ended with 17 points and 20 rebounds and would have had more had he not shot 5 for 17 from the foul line. Free-throw shooting is the only major weakness in Jordan's game. Among the most athletic players in the NBA, he came in shooting 39.9 percent from the foul line.
The Clippers clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive year, the longest streak in franchise history.
They started the evening sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference. That said more about the treacherous West than it did about the Clippers.
It also suggested that they took the Sixers very seriously with money time approaching.
"Tonight was a great lesson and a great experience to play against a real team that is a few weeks away from going into the playoffs," Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
The Clippers are led by two perennial all-stars, point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin.
Paul had his way and could do anything he wanted on offense. He finished with 25 points and seven assists. Griffin had an effective 10 points, eight assists, and five rebounds.
During his pregame interview, Brown talked about his team's improvement on defense, but his players took a night off from that trend against a Clippers team that had six players score 13 or more points. The Clippers shot 53.7 percent from the field.
As for Noel, he certainly is making an impression in the NBA.
"He is always around the rim, and guys who play with that much energy are always going to find the ball," Griffin said. "He blocks shots and does a lot of good things, and over time when he really learns the game and starts understanding, he is going to be good."