The foreseeable future ended up being only six quarters.
That's how long the 76ers' reserve center, Nerlens Noel, was sidelined after it was announced that he would be out of the rotation for the foreseeable future. But on Tuesday, the Sixers were in desperate need of a defensive spark against the New Orleans Pelicans.
So Noel subbed in for Jahlil Okafor to a standing ovation with 6 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter with his team down 14 points.
"I thought that Nerlens' minutes were timely," said coach Brett Brown, after his team's 108-93 loss at the Wells Fargo Center. "I thought there was a stage maybe this thing is going to jump-start the building."
Defensive woes - especially in the second quarter - cost the Sixers (7-21) an opportunity to win back-to-back games. They gave up 42 points in the period, the most they have surrendered in a quarter all season.
Things were getting so bad that midway through the third quarter, fans were yelling "Nerlens" and "Put Nerlens in." That was followed by faint chants of "We want Nerlens."
"I really want to thank the fans," said Noel, who checked in with the Sixers down, 66-52. "They really appreciated me these last four years. That's something I'm really appreciative about."
He added that the crowd gave him energy. The 22-year-old even momentarily had the chills. He was active during his 6-minute, 49-second stint, finishing with four points on 2-for-2 shooting.
His first basket came after he grabbed an offensive rebound of a missed 14-foot jumper by Gerald Henderson. The crowd erupted when he laid it up under the basket to make it a 68-54 game with 5:40 left in the quarter. The 6-foot-11, 232-pounder also had three rebounds. He was, however, noticeably fatigued by the end of the quarter. Noel did not play in the fourth quarter. But the former Kentucky standout said he felt good on the court.
This was just his third game of the season.
Noel missed the first 23 games with the knee injury. He spent some of that time rehabilitating in Alabama. He played 10 minutes in his season debut against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 11. Noel missed the second half of the game and sat out Wednesday's matchup against the Toronto Raptors with a left ankle sprain.
Noel returned to action Friday against the Lakers and played all of his 8:02 in the first half. He voiced his displeasure over playing so little. Two days later, Brown said that Noel would not be in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
"I was really happy for him and I thought he should have played more [Tuesday]," Joel Embiid said.
Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis led all scorers with 31 points to go with 16 rebounds and two blocks. However, he had an off-shooting night, making just 12 of 30 attempts. He opened the game with a dunk and missed his next eight shots before a second-quarter dunk.
The all-star went on to score 11 second-quarter points. That was expected.
What was not expected: Pelicans backups Tim Frazier (10 points in the quarter), E'Twaun Moore (10), and Terrence Jones (5) combined to outscore the Sixers, 25-21, in the second period.
Jones finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Moore had 15 points. Frazier, a former Sixers point guard, finished with 10. Another former Sixer, Jrue Holiday, had 12 points and nine assists.
Ersan Ilyasova led the Sixers with 14 points. Gerald Henderson added 13 points. Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Robert Covington all finished with 11 points apiece. Embiid, however, made just 4 of 12 shots and had five fouls. Okafor struggled on the defensive end.
Even in defeat, Embiid was elated that Noel got a chance to play and received a standing ovation.
"I loved it," Embiid said. "He's my best friend on the team. I was really happy for him. He's been working his [butt] off, too.
Embiid also said that he's looking forward to playing alongside Noel. He was paired in the starting lineup with Okafor for the fourth straight game.
"If we try something, I feel like we should try the other thing, too," Embiid said. "Hopefully, in the future, we can do that."