HOUSTON — After Nerlens Noel’s first NBA action in a month, and his first-ever game with the Nets, he was tired and winded. 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 him 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 he was bought out and waived.
“It felt good,” said Noel, 28, a former Knick. “It felt good to get some rust off. Yeah, a little winded in the first minutes, but it’s normal. Nobody can get away from that. But I’ve been doing a fair share. But at this point I just want to keep building on that, defensive-first mentality, rebounding, just try and make sure I bring a winning mentality to the game.”
Noel helped the Nets cruise.
“I wanted to see could Nerlens play in a basketball game and contribute and be able to pick up what we’re doing as a group. Also see his quickness if he can protect the rim,” Vaughn said. “He’s on a 10-day [contract], so I decided to use one of those 10 days pretty quickly to see what he was going to give us. So [this] was the night.”
Noel also helped spare 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, adding Noel should alleviate the need to utilize 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 early on. And he’s just getting better and better,” Noel said. “I’m in his corner and I want to help him continue to develop the right way. He’s balling. He’s got a different thing, winning basketball, winning plays.”
One of the side effects of Noel was that Cam Thomas got knocked out of the rotation, at least temporarily.
“I wanted to see where [Noel] was at. Obviously didn’t play Cam Thomas because of that. So I didn’t want to go too far into the rotation,” Vaughn said. “So really just substituted Nerlens for Cam. Kept Dorian [Finney-Smith] away from the five position to see what that looks like if we were bigger.”
Bridges had his right wrist wrapped after his 30-point game Tuesday. He had taken a knock to the wrist against the Hornets on Sunday, but said he’s OK.
Edmond Sumner rejoined the Nets after his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Amara. She weighed in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
“Everything went great, everybody is good, wife and baby,” Sumner, who did not play, told The Post.
“Nothing like being a dad. So happy for him. Excited for him. Glad he’s back with us,” Vaughn said. “Awesome, but he’ll learn how to appreciate sleep on the road for sure.”
Long Island won its 15th straight game — the third-longest streak in G-League history — and already has clinched a playoff spot.