Nerlens Noel, who was held out the entire season with Sixers: ‘I’ve been 100 percent for months now’

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The Sixers finished with the second worst record in the league this season, thanks in part to trading away veteran talent in Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes in exchange for rookies or future draft draft picks.

But they also didn’t necessarily field a lineup featuring the team’s best available players.

Nerlens Noel was selected sixth overall in the 2013 draft by the Pelicans, and came to Philadelphia in the draft night deal for Holiday. He was projected to go even higher, but concerns over a torn ACL injury he suffered lingered, and he eventually missed his entire rookie season.

It appears as though he could have played, however, based on comments he made in an interview with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

“I’ve been 100 percent for months now,” Noel told the Globe. “I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really. I will be playing in summer games and summer league.”

This is where commissioner Adam Silver’s definition of the term “tanking” differs from the one held by the rest of us.

“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding.  And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”

The Sixers worked on developing Noel plenty, and head coach Brett Brown personally worked him out extensively before games on the main arena floor — an unusual practice for any NBA coach on game nights.

But it’s hard to argue that he couldn’t have used the time to develop more quickly during live game situations, and it’s almost certain that Philadelphia would have been more competitive had Noel been a part of the team’s late-season rotation — something which he himself said he was capable of, if in fact he really has been back to 100 percent for “months.”

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.