Is Nerlens Noel best rookie at Summer League? Possibly.

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LAS VEGAS — The box score says Nerlens Noel had four blocks Monday night against the Cavaliers.

That doesn’t do his game justice.

His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint. The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.

“When the guards start being a little more timid on their drives and they start shooting a lot more floaters then I know I’m the reason,” Noel said.

It wasn’t the only thing Noel did well in his Vegas debut. He is hard to keep off the glass. He plays with more physicality than you would expect — he’s thin but will push and not back down (he doesn’t have the base to push around the strongest in the NBA, but he’s not a lightweight either). He chipped in a dozen points.

Still, it was the defense that gets your attention — at one point he sent an Anthony Bennett shot flying with a “Whose you’re No. 1 pick now?” intent.

Call it the “Blake Griffin effect” if you want, but Noel looks like the best player in Las Vegas. He’s a guy Sixers fans — and Michael Carter Williams (his old AAU teammate) — are going to love. Even if there is still plenty of raw there.

“He’s active, he’s all over the place,” Sixers Summer League coach Chad Iske said. “He’s trying to do everything, he’s trying to do too much on both ends. The hard part is do you want to just settle him down or do you want him to play with that aggressiveness? I don’t want to give him too much and cloud him, and then he’s thinking instead of playing. I think we just have to get out there and find the happy balance between him being within our rules and him being himself.”

Noel had been talked about as a likely No. 1 pick in 2013 until he blew out his ACL. Noel fell and became the No. 6 pick of the New Orleans Pelicans but was traded to the Sixers on draft night in 2013. Coming off an ACL surgery, the Sixers sat him for an entire season.

“I was very anxious to get back, even at the end of last season I was itching to get back, I felt great,” Noel said.

“I think he’s so excited to be out there and running around, you see a couple times late he gets a couple cheap fouls because he just impatient to play. But we’re excited about it,” Iske added.

Noel gets his offensive points right now mostly through hustle, although he showed a couple post moves and he knocked down an 18-footer Monday.

But is real impact from Day 1 will be on defense. And shot blocking.

The Sixers are remaining patient — Noel is not playing every game. He played some in Orlando then missed the Sixers first two games in Las Vegas before playing. This is still the log game for Philly.

“We know it’s a whole another level when we get into the regular season, we’re just happy with where he’s at right now,” Iske said. “We know it’s not a sprint, we’re looking over the long haul with him.”

Over the long haul you can picture Noel with Joel Embiid forming a front line for a team with Michael Carter-Williams and maybe Dario Saric and you can see a very good team. One that is a beast defensively.

The Sixers and Noel are trying not to get ahead of themselves. Patience and development remain the watch words. But the Sixers appear to have the best player at Summer League on their team, and he’s just getting started.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.