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Sixers' Nerlens Noel dilemma takes a new turn

Brett Brown's actions on Tuesday made it appear the 76ers organization is indecisive and waffling, depending on what the fans want.

Brett Brown's actions on Tuesday made it appear the 76ers organization is indecisive and waffling, depending on what the fans want.

On Sunday evening, the coach said reserve center Nerlens Noel was out of the rotation for the foreseeable future. Then on Monday afternoon, team president Bryan Colangelo seemed to back off from the statement, saying the decision was not a benching. He added it was a realization that there's a lot of talent on the team, and not everyone could play.

"At some point, you will see him on the court," Colangelo said.

Very few - if any - expected that "point" to come during Tuesday night's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

But 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. . . . We Want Nerlens."

So Noel subbed in for Jahlil Okafor to a standing ovation with 6 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter.

Brown said he went to Noel for the obvious reasons.

"We got stuck," the coach said. "We got in foul trouble. You look at our bigs. It was very evident that if it was going to happen, now is the time. So we did."

Joel Embiid did go to the bench after picking up his fourth foul before Noel entered the game. Embiid was replaced by power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Meanwhile, Noel came in to give Okafor a breather and be a defensive spark. While Okafor finished the game with just one foul, he struggled mightily defending in the post. And rim protection is perhaps Noel's best asset.

After the game, Brown said the Sixers have to improve on defense.

"I think holistically [the Sixers have] to find a way to take these bigs and manage them," Brown said. "We have to try to find a way that is going to help our team moving forward, get some wins, develop our guys."

But Brown knows it's a slippery slope. He added there's not a book to read that would help him pull it off.

"It's just follow your gut, your heart, and treat people like they should be treated . . . pull this together," he said. "That's the mission as we go west. And I feel confident that we can do that."

Noel was active during his 6-minute, 49-second stint, finishing with four points on 2-for-2 shooting. He was, however, noticeably fatigued by the end of that quarter. Noel did not play in the fourth.

He missed the first 23 games with the knee injury before 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 last 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. So he sat that evening against the Brooklyn Nets and the first half of Tuesday's game before being inserted back into the rotation.

"I was staying ready. When he called on me, I was up and ready to go," Noel said.

With all of his missed time, Noel isn't familiar with a lot of things Brown implemented this season. As a result, Brown said the two were exchanging hand signals on the court so Noel could figure out where he should be.

"But I thought he looked OK," the coach said. "I give him credit."

Brown was far from surprised by the fans' reaction.

"He's been with us now for . . . how many years?" he said of 2013 NBA draft acquisition. "Nerlens plays hard. He plays defense. He's appreciated by the city. It didn't surprise me.

"I'm glad they gave him a warm welcome. They should give him a warm welcome."