THE MAIN STORY that developed for the 76ers in their season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics was the play of rookie Jahlil Okafor, and rightfully so. The third overall pick has Sixers faithful salivating with his 26-point effort, which included the type of nimble footwork and brute force he showed during his national title run in his one season at Duke.

Okafor torched Celtics starting center Tyler Zeller, making his first five shots against him. The rookie's offensive success forced Boston coach Brad Stevens to bring burly Jared Sullinger off the bench to try to slow down Okafor. Stevens also commanded his team to double-, and sometimes triple-team Okafor. The 19-year-old did struggle with the added defensive presence, as evidenced by his eight turnovers. But he also had some nice passes out of the extra coverage, one time stepping through and finding Hollis Thompson for an open three.

Okafor was the main attraction, no doubt, and he didn't disappoint. He'll be in the spotlight all season for this team, good or bad. That's what happens when so much is expected, and needed, for a team trying to climb up the greasy pole that is this rebuild.

But if you take your eyes off Okafor for a minute or two during his NBA debut, the understudy might steal some of your attention.

Nerlens Noel played 35 minutes, most of them with Okafor, meaning he was manning his new position, power forward. He did all you could want, and expect, defensively, able to get out on David Lee as he eyed up outside shots or come off his man to register one of his two blocks and countless intimidations. He used his lightning-quick hands and great anticipation skills to get three steals. He roamed effectively enough to corral 12 rebounds, and he found himself in the right place enough of the game to deposit 14 points.

More than the numbers, though, was the ease at which Noel now plays. There is more room on the floor with Okafor for him to use his athleticism to get where he wants. Unlike most of last season, he doesn't have to be a banger, which certainly doesn't suit his frame, which he struggles to keep at around 220 pounds.

I've often thought that if Noel could get just two baskets during a game in the halfcourt offense, two more by running the floor and then make four of six foul shots, that should be a normal night of 12 points. Then, add in the defensive monster he is becoming, and he certainly is a nice piece of this rebuilding puzzle.

Early indications seem to lean toward him being able to do much more than that offensively, and I believe that, without thinking, he can be any sort of threat from more than 12 feet beyond the basket.

"I've definitely improved. I've improved from last season, and it's all about improving and getting better and better," Noel said. He's doing that. And his teaming with Okafor might just hasten the improvement in his game.

"I feel like (when Noel is on the floor with Okafor) he can hide a little bit in a good way," coach Brett Brown said. "He can sneak around behind things offensively. A lot of his blocks (in the preseason) were secondary blocks. He came from off his man. He sniffs around. He can roam a little bit offensively and defensively. I think he can play a little slower in his mind when Jahlil is on the floor."

Getting closer?

When the Sixers completed their shootaround Wednesday morning in the tiny gym at Emerson College in preparation for that night's season opener at Boston, most players eagerly boarded the team bus to get back to the hotel for a meal and a nap.

Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall, two point guards who suffered torn ACLs in January and will compete for the starting point guard spot once healthy, were having a strong competition, which included shooting jumpers, then battling against an assistant coach on hard drives to the basket.

This wasn't a casual workout. This was hard, strong basketball. At one point, Wroten took a pass, made a hard dribble to the left then a quick crossover to the right. The force of the move made him lose his balance momentarily as his left leg skidded out. He righted himself, then attacked the basket. He did it over and over and over again, without hesitation or any hint of favoring the injury.

Brown has hinted that the two still might be months away. You could tell by Wroten's expression after the workout that he thinks he'll be ready long before then.

Speaking of getting closer, the Sixers indicated shooting guard Nik Stauskas (back spasms) was probable for Friday's home opener against Utah, but Brown said he is still day-to-day.

Scary scheduling

Everybody has to travel in the NBA, and it is a grueling 82-game stretch. But the early part of the Sixers' schedule has some scratching their heads, wondering whether the NBA might be picking on an organization that has 37 wins over the last two seasons.

November is usually a pretty easy travel month for the Sixers, since they make a long trip out west over the holidays because the Wells Fargo Center hosts "Disney on Ice." This November, however, the team is on the road for 10 of its 16 games, including a rugged six-game stretch in 10 days late in the month that goes from Charlotte to Miami to Minnesota to Boston to Houston and Memphis.

That is no normal travel routine. They will again be away for 10 of their 16 games in December, which includes the start of a six-game trek that includes the West Coast and stretches into January.

Upcoming Games

Who: Utah Jazz (0-1) at Sixers (0-1)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: This will be a real fun test for rookie Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in the home opener, as they will go up against one of the best interior defenders in the game, 7-1 Rudy Gobert.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (1-1) at Sixers

When: Monday, 7 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: This is the first of three meetings for the Sixers with LeBron James in the first 29 games of the season. Kevin Love is back from his shoulder injury, but Kyrie Irving is still sidelined with a bad knee.

Who: Sixers at Milwaukee Bucks (0-1)

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Where: Bradley Center, Milwaukee

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/The Fanatic (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Bucks got absolutely thwarted by New York on Opening Night, allowing the Knicks to score 122 points. Michael Carter-Williams posted a familiar line that night, going for 20 points, five rebounds and four assists, but adding six turnovers and shooting only 6-for-17 from the floor.

By the numbers

2: That's how many games over .500 the Detroit Pistons are after winning their first games of this season. It's the first time in more than six years they've been that many games over .500.

80-45: That's what the Sixers' starters outscored Boston's by in the season opener.

8: The amount of turnovers by Jahlil Okafor in his first NBA game.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76