"Nobody," Thibodeau said.
"Because you're combining the speed, the power, the skills, the passing, the vision. I can't recall anyone that I've coached against that's like that. There's nothing that he doesn't do. He's great with the ball, great without the ball, can post, can drive, can shoot, can really pass. If you overcommit to him he's going to make you really pay. And he keeps getting better every year. So he's an all-time great."
Thibodeau always talks about how the Bulls must play team defense against a player like James. But the reality, as the veteran coach knows, is that it's much, much easier said than done as his team once against gets set to host James and the Heat on Sunday afternoon. James is the best player in the world, and he can take over the game virtually whenever he wants.
The Bulls saw that again firsthand a couple weeks ago when they got throttled by the Heat in the second half of a game they would go on to lose. The performance infuriated Noah so much that he called out his entire team and the way the Bulls played. No matter how many times Thibodeau might try to downplay a matchup against the Heat, Noah and his teammates understand that these games always mean a little more.
"When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes]," Noah said after the loss Feb. 23. "Regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge -- our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."
The fact that Miami has knocked out the Bulls in two of the past three postseasons is not lost on Thibodeau or his players. He liked the fire with which Noah spoke after that game, but he has always believed that actions speak much louder than words.
"You got to be ready to have the fight necessary to succeed," he said. "I think that we were disappointed that we didn't play 48 minutes against them. And we know that that's necessary in order to win. So hopefully we can bring better effort."
Effort isn't the only thing the Bulls will need Sunday. They need better execution as well. They've won 10 of their past 13 contests, but if they don't find ways to score and make the effort plays that have defined them under Thibodeau, James will find ways to break them down as he has done in the past. Thibodeau acknowledged that a case could be made that the Heat are a dynasty, having played in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles in a row.
The key for his team is to find the intensity that was missing in Miami. In order to do that, the Bulls must find a way to slow down James and stay in front of him. It's an assignment that Thibodeau hopes his team is ready for against the best player -- and the best team -- in the game.
"That's the challenge," he said. "In this league you're going to be challenged every day that you're in it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're a player, coach, executive, first-year player, 15-year player -- it doesn't matter. You're going to be challenged and that's what brings out the best in people. So we're looking forward to it. We know they're tough on both ends of the floor and we got to be ready."
Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote recently about how "unlikely" bonuses in player contracts could potentially put some non-taxpaying teams past the tax thresholds. One of the subjects of his piece was Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, whose $500,000 bonus for making first-team All-NBA would push the Bulls' payroll into tax territory.
Fortunately for Chicago's bean counters, the play of Dwight Howard and the subsequent rise of the Houston Rockets, particularly over the last two months, make Noah's candidacy for a spot on the first team more and more unlikely as the season winds down.
But there's another question to be answered by Bulls management: Even when (if?) hometown hero Derrick Rose returns to full health, isn't Noah really the centerpiece of the franchise? Is Noah the face of the Bulls?
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Like the Bulls, the Grizzlies use tough defense, especially on the interior with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, to take over games down the stretch. That's exactly what happened late in this one as the Grizzlies tightened things up and clamped down on Tom Thibodeau's offense in the waning minutes for an 85-77 win.
The Bulls were only 2-for-13 from beyond the arc and that killed their ability to spread the floor. But in Thibodeau's mind, the turning point of the game wasn't defined by the lack of made shots. It was based on the fact the Grizzlies outrebounded the Bulls and made plays in the second half that Chicago wasn't able to respond to.
"Rebounding was the name of the game," Thibodeau said. "In the third quarter they had 30 points. The last five minutes of the third quarter was a disaster."
The Grizzlies did all the little things that the Bulls usually do to beat teams. They got the extra rebound, they made the extra defensive rotation, they knocked down a shot when they needed to have it. Noah and his teammates knew what to expect on Friday night, they just couldn't execute correctly. The attention to detail was crucial in this game and that's one of the reasons why Noah was so frustrated by his six-turnover performance. The mental mistakes cost the Bulls -- especially in the end.
Mike Miller made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points as the Grizzlies closed out a three-game road trip with their third victory in four games. Zach Randolph added 10 points and 11 rebounds after missing Memphis' previous game with the flu.
The Grizzlies shut out the Bulls after Taj Gibson's layup trimmed Memphis' lead to 81-77 with 3:15 to go.
Gibson had 18 points for Chicago, which had won 10 of 12. Playing with a sprained right thumb, Joakim Noah finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but also had six of the Bulls' 13 turnovers.
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Memphis Grizzlies earned an 85-77 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Marc Gasol had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Zach Randolph had 10 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Grizzlies. Taj Gibson had 18 points to lead the Bulls, but they couldn't make shots down the stretch and it cost them.
What it means: This game unfolded exactly as expected. It was a tough, hard-fought battle full of defense and missed shots. The difference was that the Grizzlies made plays when they had to and stuffed the Bulls defensively when they needed stops. The Bulls offense stalled and, unlike in games in the past few weeks, it had no answers. They couldn't hit shots from the outside and couldn't penetrate on the inside when they needed to because of Memphis' solid interior defense. The Bulls didn't score in the final 3:15 of regulation.
Hits: Joakim Noah had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he had several costly turnovers as well.
Misses: Mike Dunleavy was 2-for-10 from the field.
Stat of the night: The Bulls went 2-for-13 from beyond the arc.
What's next: The Bulls have a showdown against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon.
The power forward sat out when Memphis lost 103-94 at Brooklyn on Wednesday night. He came to the arena in hopes of playing, but was unable to go.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger says it was "just a bout of the flu," and Randolph is all set to play against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.
Randolph is averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 57 games.
"You want me to address that?" Noah said at Friday's shootaround in response to a question about an ESPN.com report Thursday that said he told Anthony he could win a championship if he signed with the Bulls as a free agent after the season. "I don't feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say about it."
Anthony, speaking to the media Friday night after the Knicks beat the Jazz 108-81, also declined to directly address the report but denied the substance of it, saying, "I can't have that conversation."
"I heard about that one, too," Anthony said. "Every day it's a story. Every day it's going to be a new story. I have no information about that. I don't know how that story got out there who started that story. I don't know. I really don't know what to say about it."
Noah was asked if the reported recruiting pitch for Anthony had, in fact, happened, and he didn't deny the conversation took place.
"Doesn't matter," Noah said. "What does that have to do with our team right now? It doesn't matter."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau also tried to brush it off.
"It's a bunch of nonsense," he said. "People just start throwing stuff out there and then they wait for everyone to respond to it. If you waste your time on stuff like that, then you're not thinking about Memphis. So that's all we're thinking about: 'Think about Memphis.'"
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah wore a taped wrap over his ailing right thumb, but he said he will play through any pain he may have.
"It was cool," he said of Thursday's checkup, which revealed a sprain. "I got an MRI. I'm good."
Noah tore ligaments in the same thumb during the 2010-11 season and tried to play through the pain but ultimately had to have surgery a few weeks later. He missed two months.
He does not believe the problems are the same, and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he was confident Noah's thumb ligaments are structurally intact.
"It's the same thumb, that's about it," Noah said. "We don't have to cut into it. No surgery. Everything's good. I feel good. I'm all right."
Noah went through all of shootaround and Thibodeau is confident he'll remain in the lineup.
"He's good," Thibodeau said. "It's just a sprain. He's fine."
Thibodeau understands that players have to play through injuries at this point in the season. He did not seem concerned that Noah's injury would hamper him in any way.
"I think at this time in the year every player in nicked up in some way," he said. "And then, do you have the toughness to get past it? And he certainly does, so he's got to get out there -- he's done a great job of leading the team. But we need everybody ... from a medical standpoint, the ligament was fine so that was the positive thing about that."
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It is unclear whether Noah will have to miss any time or will be available to play Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Noah injured the thumb during Wednesday night's win against the Detroit Pistons. He didn't want to go into detail about the injury after the game, calling it just a "boo-boo," but he did wear a protective brace on it as he headed out of the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Bulls have to be extra cautious with the injury. Noah has become their most valuable player and is in the midst of the best stretch of his career. He racked up his second triple-double in three games in Wednesday's win as a focal point on both ends of the floor. More importantly, Noah tore ligaments in the same thumb during the 2010-11 season and had to miss two months after having surgery to repair it.
The key for the Bulls will be to see how he responds to treatment. He has shown a high pain threshold in the past, having played with the ligament tear for almost a month before having surgery in December 2010.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is expected to update Noah's condition after Friday morning's shootaround.
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah has always been a solid recruiter. He has the type of outgoing personality and charm that people usually gravitate toward. When he was at the University of Florida, former Gators football coach Urban Meyer repeatedly asked Noah to spend time with some recruits that came through Gainesville.
The happy-go-lucky center enjoys the role of pied piper -- which is why it should come as no surprise that Noah reached out to New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony during All-Star Weekend, according to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard.
The pair have known each other for years -- going back to their days on the AAU circuit in the Northeast. There's a mutual respect between both players that has gained more prominence in the last couple of years because of Noah's progression into an All-Star center.