A LITTLE MORE than two weeks ago, when the 76ers were hosting Indiana, coach Brett Brown talked about how good the Pacers' small starting lineup was, with Paul George playing the power forward position, and therefore thought it better to bring Nerlens Noel off the bench that night. Turned out Indiana started its big lineup at the Wells Fargo Center, so Noel got the start anyway.

But the planned move was evidence of the difficulties facing the coach as he tries to mesh the two young big men on which so much hope for the franchise is pinned.

Brown moved Noel away from the center spot at the end of last season to get him accustomed to the power forward position, which the coach envisioned him playing alongside of center Joel Embiid this season. But Embiid needed another surgery and is losing another season. The draft brought in Jahlil Okafor, who is a polished offensive player in the paint.

That's where things get dicey offensively. Last season, when Brown was forecasting the future, his eyes sparkled at the thought of Noel and Embiid on the floor together, with Embiid being able to step away from the basket offensively and make 15- to 18-footers consistently and Noel running and roaming, using his "A-plus athleticism," as Brown says, to get breakout baskets and follows.

Now, with Okafor being the talented paint player that he is, and Noel still not confident in shooting the midrange jumper, the offense with those two on the court becomes mostly stagnant, without the spacing Brown so desires.

And then there is the other end of the floor.

"They can't play together," said an NBA executive. "I just don't see it. Watch them defensively. Their instincts are both to defend the paint, because that is exactly what they've been doing all their lives. But here's the problem. When the Sixers miss a shot or commit a turnover, both Noel and Okafor run back on defense and instinctively run to the rim, which they have been taught all their lives. Problem is, there is a Dirk Nowitzki or LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love spotting up, waiting to get a wide-open shot.

"I don't know if they can figure that out. The advantage to it is that Brett has been around this situation before when he was in San Antonio and they were figuring out how to best get along with (Tim) Duncan and (David) Robinson. Of course, those are two Hall of Fame players. But they were also different types of players so you had a lot more to work with than you might with Noel and Okafor. They're both still so young and probably will get a lot better, but right now you are trying to piece together two guys who are fives (centers). Noel isn't a power forward. He needs to be near the rim where he is an extremely good defender."

The young part is the key here. Okafor is 19. Noel is 21. Both played one year of college and between them have one year of NBA experience. David Robinson was a Naval Academy graduate who entered the NBA at the mature age of 24. When Tim Duncan arrived, he had played four years at Wake Forest and was a polished 21-year-old rookie. That makes all the difference in the world and the reason it is still way too early in the formation of Okafor and Noel to know if it will or won't work.

Hinkie's silence

There has been a lot of reaction to general manager Sam Hinkie deciding not to talk to the media about the troubles surrounding his No. 3 pick, rookie center Jahlil Okafor. The Duke product, of course, was suspended by the team before Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks when earlier in the day a second video was released by TMZ that appeared to show Okafor in yet another fight early on Thanksgiving morning in Boston.

Okafor apparently wasn't totally forthcoming when he approached Brett Brown to fill him in on the early-morning happenings on the team plane Thursday as they prepared to leave Boston for Houston. That appears to be the reasoning for the two-game suspension.

Wednesday, in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, about an hour and a half before the game, Brown came out and met the media, as coaches do before every game. The gathering was large, as it usually is in New York, but this was different. The suspension had just been announced and everyone wanted to hear the team's explanation as to why, what's next, and how high is the level of concern.

The questions were fired, and answered dutifully by Brown for over 10 minutes. Someone then asked him if Nerlens Noel would be starting at center in Okafor's place. "Oh, we can go back to (talking) about the game? OK, great. We're playing the Knicks."

That should have been the only topic Brown needed to approach before a game. The 10 minutes he spent talking about Okafor's lack of honesty and whether he needs professional help and where to put the level of concern, should have been answered by the general manager, who was standing just around the corner near the locker room. Hasn't this coach been through enough with all the losing he's had to endure, with the daily grind that the NBA provides, whether you're winning or losing?

Hinkie talks about what a great relationship the two have. It didn't show on Wednesday. I've been around Brown an awful lot during these tough times, and I'm starting to see him wear down a bit, maybe never more than this past week. How can his general manager not see it? How could he not step in for someone he says he is so close to and say, "I'll take this one, you just talk about hoops."

A gesture like that would probably have meant as much to the coach as a 10-game winning streak. And maybe would have done some good for the organization, too.



Who: Nuggets at Sixers

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

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

Game stuff: This will be the fifth of a five-game road trip for the Nuggets, who aren't a very good road team to begin with, having lost eight in a row heading into Thursday's game at Toronto. During the first four losses of the streak, Denver allowed 113 points while scoring just 81.3.

Who: Spurs at Sixers

When: Monday, 7 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

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

Game stuff: This is never an easy game for Sixers coach Brett Brown, going against one of his best friends and mentor Gregg Popovich. In their previous eight games going into Thursday, the Spurs were averaging just 93.9 points, but have been able to overcome it. They are allowing a league-best 88.8 points.

Who: Sixers at Nets (5-13)

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

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

Game stuff: The Nets have won four consecutive at the Barclays Center, where they will play a combined 20 times in December and January, which is the most in the NBA. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young is averaging 15.3 points and 8.4 rebounds for Brooklyn.


102: That's how many three-pointers guard Stephen Curry made in the first 20 games for the Golden State Warriors, beating the old NBA record for makes after 20 games by 27.

31.4: That's how many three pointers the Sixers have attempted on average the past seven games. During that span they shot 78-for-220 (35.5 percent)

23.9: That's now many three pointers the Sixers averaged their first 13 games. During that span they shot 95-for-311 (30.5 percent).

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville