Richaun Holmes has never wavered from his mantra.
Stay ready. Just stay ready.
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Holmes has found himself battling for playing time since his rookie year. Last season, he fought for minutes behind Carl Landry. This time around, he has been the odd man out in the Sixers' logjam of centers.
When knee injuries to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor left the Sixers down two big men, Holmes didn't just jump, he pounced all over his extended role against the Clippers.
"Nothing is ever given," Holmes said after the Sixers' 121-110 win on Tuesday (see Instant Replay). "You always have to go and take every opportunity you can. So when you're given an opportunity, you've got to be ready and you've got to try to grab it by the horns."
Holmes burst into the game with 11 points over a three-minute span in the first quarter. He tied his career high of 18 points (8 for 11 from the field) and did so in as many minutes. Holmes added in three rebounds and an athletic block on Blake Griffin (see video) as the team rallied from down 19 points for the victory.
"He's a good young man," Brett Brown said. "He gets it. He's not naive. He sees the logjam that we have and he's maintained his attitude and clearly maintained his fitness base. … His production with 18 minutes and 18 points is massive for us."
Instead of biding his time on the bench, Holmes has been staying active with D-League assignments to the Delaware 87ers. He has appeared in six games this season, averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes. It is a contrast to his limited 7.1 points and 4.1 boards in 15.5 minutes over 23 games (out of 43) with the Sixers. Holmes had not played more than 10 minutes for the Sixers since Dec. 11.
"It's part of the job," Holmes said matter of factly. "I went down to the D-League for a few days, I was able to get some runs in, that was huge. Staying in my workouts, keeping my mind ready, preparing like I'm going to play 30 minutes every night keeps you in that mindset, so when your name is called, you're ready to play."
Holmes approached game day just like any other, even though there was a possibility he could see more playing time with Okafor listed as questionable. He got to the Sixers' training complex an hour-and-a-half before shootaround began to put up extra shots, and stayed on the court after, too. Holmes has followed Brown's advice to keep a routine, so he didn't waver and get caught up in the thought of minutes.
"There are countless people who are trying to be in your shoes," Holmes said. "You're one of 450 guys in this league. You've got to keep your head down, keep working and don't worry about things you can't control."
Holmes wasn't the only big man stepping into a different role on Tuesday. Nerlens Noel returned to the starting lineup for the first time since last season's finale. After being out of the rotation following knee surgery, Noel had settled into a sixth-man role with the second unit. Had Okafor played, Noel would have come off the bench.
Like Holmes' mentality, Noel has said he plans for every game as if he is going to play 35 minutes. He came close, logging a season-high 29.
"I think he handled it just fine," Brown said. "He did a really good job of rim protection and showing that great offensive energy running the floor."
Noel led the Sixers with 19 points (also a season high) off 8 for 10 shooting from the floor. He pulled down eight rebounds, dished five assists, blocked three shots and picked off two steals. Noel enhanced the Sixers' athleticism with an active presence on both ends of the court (see feature highlight).
"I felt great," Noel said. "It was a different type of opportunity. I just wanted to go out there and show my abilities."
Holmes and Noel may see another opportunity like this on Wednesday. Okafor's status is undetermined for the second half of the Sixers' back-to-back set against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Embiid was pre-scheduled to sit out because of his limitations on consecutive games.