As expected, the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the undermanned Houston Rockets on Monday night. The 104-93 setback at the Wells Fargo Center dropped them to 0-4. It marks the first time they opened with four straight losses since the 2010-11 season.
But again, that was expected.
Nerlens Noel's performance against Dwight Howard was not.
Aside from grabbing just one rebound, the rookie had a solid performance against arguably the NBA's best center. Noel finished with 10 points, a game-high six steals, five assists and a block.
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Noel slid from his normal power forward position to center because Henry Sims, the starting center, has an upper respiratory infection. Sims played 13 minutes, 19 seconds in a reserve role.
Howard, who was questionable with a sore knee, had 11 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, three assists and four blocks.
"I think (Noel) deserves a heck of lot of praise," 76ers Coach Brett Brown said. "To front Dwight Howard and show passion ... I think Nerlens had a hell of a game."
Holding a 48-pound advantage, Howard relegated Noel to bystander status on the boards. The rookie grabbed his lone rebound with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining. But Howard was no match for Noel's quickness and open-court defense.
Two of Noel's four first-half steals came against Howard. On one occasion, Howard attempted to post up Noel. But the Sixers rookie quickly positioned himself in front of Howard, stole the ball and started a fastbreak.
Noel's best defensive play came against James Harden. The Rockets shooting guard easily beat JaKarr Sampson to the basket. But the 6-foot-11, 217-pounder blocked Harden's two-handed dunk attempt right before the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter.
"I waited for him to get to the basket, and he was there and I was there and we played basketball," Noel said.
Noel had another highlight after he stripped Howard near Houston's three-point line and finished with a breakaway dunk.
He accomplished all those things against one of his favorite post players.
"Dwight was definitely up there" among his favorites growing up, said the 20-year-old, whose favorite player in Kevin Garnett. "He is more a pound-it big man. That's not really my game."
■ Marc Gasol scored 16 points, Zach Randolph had 15 and Tayshaun Prince added 14 as the Memphis Grizzlies extended their home winning streak to a franchise record 16 straight with a 93-81 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Tyreke Evans led the Pelicans (1-2) with 21 points. Early foul trouble limited Anthony Davis to 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot. Darius Miller had two assists in four minutes in his first game of the season.
■ Rajon Rondo had seven points, 15 assists and nine rebounds in the Boston Celtics' 118-113 loss at Dallas. The Mavericks led by 31 points before the Celtics made it close.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rondo is the first player since Magic Johnson in 1983 to have at least 35 assists and 25 rebounds in his team's first three games of a season.