Nerlens Noel has solid Nets debut in victory
HOUSTON — After Nerlens Noel’s first NBA play in a month and his first-ever game with the Nets, he was tired and out of breath. And, as Mikal Bridges reminded him from across the victorious locker room, undefeated.
Noel signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Monday, and coach Jacque Vaughn vowed to play against him on Tuesday.
Vaughn did just that, playing Noel 17:48 in the Nets’ 118-96 victory over the Rockets, his first game since a 3:22 cameo for Detroit on Feb. 8, his last appearance with the Pistons before being bought out and waived.
“It felt good,” says Noel, 28, a former Knick. “It felt good to get some rust off. Yes, a bit windy in the first minutes, but that’s normal. No one escapes that. But I’ve done my fair share. But right now I just want to keep building on that defensive mindset, rebounding, just trying to make sure I bring a winner’s mindset into play.
Noel helped the Nets cruise.
“I wanted to see if Nerlens can play in a basketball game and contribute and pick up on what we do as a group. Also see his speed if he can protect the rim,” said Vaughn. “He is on a 10-day [contract], so I decided to use one of those 10 days pretty quickly to see what he would give us. So [this] was the night.”
Noel also helped replace starter Nic Claxton, who had 18 points, 13 boards and a game-high plus-23 in 28:55 minutes. Vaughn said Claxton has been overused, and with Ben Simmons injured, the addition of Noel should alleviate the need to bring in Yuta Watanabe and Royce O’Neale as small-ball five backups.
‘Even before I got here [Claxton] was one of my favorite bigs to watch, similar styles, especially in the beginning. And he just gets better and better,” Noel said. “I am in his corner and I want to help him to continue to develop in the right way. He’s playing ball. He’s got something else, winning basketball, winning plays.”
One of Noel’s side effects was Cam Thomas being knocked out of rotation, at least temporarily.
“I wanted to see where [Noel] was with. Obviously didn’t play against Cam Thomas because of that. So I didn’t want to go too far into the rotation,” Vaughn said. “So basically just replace Nerlens with Cam. Dorian kept [Finney-Smith] away from the five position to see what that would look like if we were taller.
Bridges had his right wrist wrapped after his 30-point game Tuesday. He had received a blow to the wrist on Sunday against the Hornets, but said he was fine.
Edmond Sumner rejoined the Nets after his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Amara. She weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
“Everything went great, everyone is fine, wife and baby,” Sumner, who did not play, told The Post.
“There is nothing like being a father. So happy for him. Excited for him. Glad he’s back with us,’ Vaughn said. “Great, but he’ll definitely learn to appreciate sleeping along the way.”
Long Island won its 15th consecutive game – the third longest streak in G-League history – and has already clinched a playoff spot.