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76ers won't have Embiid vs. Pistons

Just when the Philadelphia 76ers thought they would finally have all of their top big men available, another injury cropped up.

Nerlens Noel is expected to make his season debut when the Sixers play at Detroit on Sunday.

Noel, who averaged 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, underwent surgery on his left knee in October. Jahlil Okafor, out the last three games because of gastroenteritis, also made the trip.

Now for the bad news: Joel Embiid, who has quickly emerged as one of the league's most productive centers, stayed home because of right elbow inflammation.

Embiid is averaging a team-high 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots after missing two seasons because of foot injuries. He will be sitting out his eighth game this season.

Noel is eager and ready to get his season started after the prolonged absence.

"I'm in better shape and in a better mental place to come back and play basketball at a high level," Noel told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "There's always excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not be able to play organized basketball at a competitive level.

"I've been looking forward to this. I think I've gained some momentum coming back from this. I'm feeling good with my body, and everything is on point."

The Sixers (5-18) snapped an eight-game losing streak and 23-game road losing streak by defeating New Orleans 99-88 on Thursday. They held the Pelicans to 31 second-half points.

"I think our defense has been trending that way," coach Brett Brown told the Inquirer. "We just haven't had a win to validate it. I feel like our defense was physical."

The Pistons (13-12) also collected a road victory in their last outing, overwhelming Minnesota 117-90 on Friday. Center Andre Drummond controlled the paint, notching his second consecutive 20-20 game with 22 points and 22 rebounds.

"His energy was great," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He was dominant and he was all over the boards and you can see as we start to get more penetration, he gets better opportunities on the offensive boards. So, that's really helped him, too.

"I think the real positive thing is that's three games in a row -- three games in four days -- where he's played really well and that's what we're looking for from him, that consistent energy."

Power forward Joe Leuer also provided another big boost off the bench, tying his season high with 17 points. He's been the team's most consistent reserve, averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Leuer signed a four-year contract as a free agent over the summer and is flourishing as the primary backup to both starting forwards, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris.

"That's why I wanted to come here," Leuer said. "I knew Stan's system was a good fit for me. I knew it was a great opportunity to play and be a part of something special and build something here.

"That's what I think we are doing. It's a process, but every day we're just going to come in and work hard. I feel like I fit in well with what we're doing here."

This will be the first meeting between the teams this season. Detroit swept the four-game series last season, averaging 113.3 points in those games.