PRETTY MUCH since training camp, coach Brett Brown has had a bat, but no ball to hit. A computer with no keyboard.
During the limited, early practice sessions in which both Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel were available to him, Brown pitted the two big men against each other instead of pairing them on the same side. The coach's thinking was to get them acclimated to playing against another true big for a while before siding them on the same team.
But then both suffered minor injuries that cost them time on the court. Finally, on Tuesday, Brown was able to input an offensive game plan with Okafor playing center and Noel at power forward in anticipation of the team's last preseason game on Friday and regular-season opener next Wednesday in Boston.
"It's coming along really good," Noel said. "I think we're meshing better and better. We had a great practice. We're finding each other even more than we have in games . . . We worked on the high-low a little bit. Me flashing up and 'Jah' flashing up. We worked a lot out of the post for the whole practice. Coach Brown made that emphasis. We're all just getting better and better and figuring out where the shooters are and the spacing we really need with posting up isolations. It's coming along."
It's no secret the way Brown wants his team to play, and that is as fast as possible. He also knows that, in Okafor, he has a low-post presence that will require numerous touches during a game. Expecting Noel to run with the guards up and down the floor is conceivable. Wanting the same thing from Okafor simply is not.
"I thought the thing that came out most was that they can pass and they can really pass to each other," Brown said of the practice. "That big-big relationship is common in all big-big teams. It's a relationship on how you find each other and (how) they talk to each other. In a halfcourt game, how do they coexist? How do you space? Where does JaKarr (Sampson) go? He's more of a slasher. Where does (Robert) Covington go? He's more of a shooter. Fortunately, I've had a lot of experience on spacing behind Tim Duncan. I have to do a good job with these guys."
The Sixers had hoped shooting guard Nik Stauskas might be available for the final preseason game on Friday after missing six games so far with a stress reaction in his right tibia. He won't be, but the hope now is that he'll take the court for the season opener in Boston next Wednesday.
Stauskas again worked out on his own at practice Tuesday.
"I want to be back out there but I trust our training staff and I trust our doctors," he said. "I've been making a lot of progress, and I feel really good, and I've started to become active again with running and jumping. An injury like this, they just want to make sure that it's healed all the way, so that it doesn't nag me throughout the 82-game season.
"I'm pretty much doing everything but contact and scrimmaging. As far as working out, I'm able to start cutting again, I've started shooting and finishing at the basket. I just haven't played in game situations yet."
Of playing in the opener, Stauskas said: "I hope so. Yeah. With the way things have been progressing and the way that I've been feeling. But at the end of the day, that's going to be up to our training staff. I'm eager to play in that game, for sure. They want to make sure that from the day that I first felt the pain they wanted two weeks where I do absolutely nothing and then after those two weeks that's when we start re-evaluating. We're in that re-evaluation process, where every day we see how it feels and we kind of ramp up the level of activity every day and then hopefully by the 28th, I'm ready to go."
Center Christian Wood, still bothered by a sore hamstring, was a partial participant Tuesday.
Brett Brown, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor took in the Eagles-Giants game Monday as guests of the team. Though a New England Patriots fan, Noel appreciates the Birds and their fans.
"That's where we're striving to get to," Noel said of the atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field. "We want to fill up the Wells Fargo and have the whole city behind us. We know it's going to take time, we know it's still a process. We're getting better and better and the city's only gaining more confidence in us."
NBA.com's GM survey produced the result that Sixers center Jahlil Okafor is the favorite to win the rookie of the year award: 44.8 percent of the GMs predicted he would be the winner, while 62.1 percent said Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns would be the 2015 draft's best player five years from now. The survey also had the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA championship, with LeBron James capturing league MVP.