By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 76ers will face one of their biggest challenges of the season on Saturday night when they welcome the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to the Center.

The Sixers will obviously be big underdogs in this one, but they truly are playing much better basketball these days. Since that 1-30 start to the season, the Sixers have gone a more respectable 6-10.

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“I think guys are really playing for each other,” Sixers big man Nerlens Noel tells KYW Newsradio. “We’ve been playing just fluid basketball, guys are really starting to know their roles and play to the best of their ability. So I think we’ve built a lot of confidence in these past couple months.”

Listen to the entire interview with Sixers forward/center Nerlens Noel:



This improvement for the Sixers coincides directly with the reacquisition of point guard Ish Smith, who has been really good since he was picked up from New Orleans.  Smith spent time with the Sixers last season, but wasn’t resigned at the conclusion of the campaign. Noel’s game has definitely been on the upswing since the point guard was plugged into the lineup right around Christmas.

“I think (Smith’s return) was one of my better gifts,” Noel says.

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Overall this season, Noel is averaging 10.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a night while shooting an impressive 53% from the field. Noel is connecting on 63% of his shots here in January.

Noel says the Sixers have also turned up the defense as of late.

“Guys are playing with a tenacity and a toughness that we didn’t have in the early part of the season,” Noel says.

The Sixers will be facing a Golden State team that may even be better than it was last season. The Warriors are an incredible 42-4 and riding a five-game winning streak. They are led by the one and only Steph Curry who is averaging 29.9 points a game after winning NBA MVP honors last season.

Noel knows the Sixers have their work cut out for them in this one.

“They move the ball so well,” Noel says. “So I think a big task for us is going to be to blow some things up, blow some pick-and-rolls up, not let them be comfortable moving the ball all around.”

The Sixers and Warriors will tip-off at 5:00pm on Saturday.

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.