Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Noah looking more like himself at break

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Before jetting off to his Jamaican vacation, Joakim Noah knew he had to keep his mind focused on basketball for one more night. After a season full of ups and downs, the emotional leader of the Chicago Bulls wanted to make one last point before the All-Star Break.

"We've been really playing pretty s----y basketball lately," Noah acknowledged after Thursday night's 113-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "So just to get a good quality win ... I think it was important for us."

[+] EnlargeTristan Thompson, Joakim Noah
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah is excited about how good he's feeling physically but says he has "another gear to get to."
After all the admitted ups and downs of a season that has been tainted by the aftereffects of last May's knee surgery, Noah's best stretch of the season continued Thursday as he posted one of his best games. Noah racked up 10 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists against the Cavs.

More important, he remains more active on both ends of the court and looks as if he is finally trusting that knee. Maybe that's why he was so optimistic before heading out of the United Center late Thursday night.

"I still feel like I got another gear to get to," Noah said. "It's just been up and down, man, so I just have to stay patient, but I'm excited though. I'm feeling better and better, and I just got to keep working."

From a broader prospective, this four-game winning streak is also probably the best Noah and veteran big man Pau Gasol have played together all season. Aside from the Bulls' improved defense, the best news for coach Tom Thibodeau is that his two big men are starting to play better with each other.

So why is this happening now?

"I don't know," Gasol said. "I think Jo has stepped it up, and he's playing really well right now. I think we're both willing passers ... we have length, and I always think that we can complement each other very well. Spacing, I think it's been better. But it's just a matter of things working out well and Jo playing at a higher level."

For years, the Bulls have taken their cues from Noah. He is the emotional leader of this group -- when he's down, many of his teammates are down. When he's up, the Bulls feel as if they can take on the world. That's why a win over LeBron James & Co. was so important for a group that needed a confidence booster heading into the break on a four-game win streak after dropping six of nine.

"We've been dealing with a lot of highs and lows," Noah said. "Winning against good teams, losing against bad teams. Just very inconsistent ... it feels good. This is definitely the best we've played in a while. So we can think about that for a week."

What does Noah plan to do to unwind for the next few days?

"Get a little sun," he said. "Enjoy the sun a little bit, while [Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic] is going to, I think it's a blizzard in New York [to play in the Rising Stars game]. I'm going to go to the sun, the beach and drink a Red Stripe. So I'm really hyped about that. I'm really, really excited about that."

11 reasons why the Bulls are struggling

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
Friedell By Nick Friedell
Derrick RoseChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesEven with Derrick Rose back on the court, the Bulls are failing to live up to lofty expectations.
Derrick Rose can't pinpoint why the Chicago Bulls play hard sometimes and languish at others.

He cited a lack of "effort" and "communication" on defense on Wednesday, after a loss to the Houston Rockets, as the biggest reason the Bulls have struggled recently, having lost three straight and gone just 8-10 since Jan. 1.

Rose also acknowledged that it's been a while since the Bulls have been this frustrated.

"It's been a minute," Rose said. "It's been a long time, but it shouldn't be anywhere near that knowing how talented we are, knowing that guys want to really win. It's just that we didn't get things clicking yet. We got time, we just got to make sure we give it our all in practice, shootaround, and in the games and figure a way out."

The Bulls (30-20) are still hopeful that they will turn things around as they get set for their final 32 regular-season games. What do they need to fix, beginning with Saturday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans? Let's take a look at 11 of the biggest issues facing the Bulls in a season that started with championship expectations:

1. Lack of defense

If the Bulls don't turn it around and win a championship this season, the obituary will lead with their inability to play defense like they did in the first four seasons of Tom Thibodeau's tenure. The Bulls used to punch teams in the mouth during games. Now they are giving up 102.4 points per 100 possessions, 13th-best in the league. That's 4.6 more per 100 possessions than last season, when they ranked second.

The Bulls have also given up 100 or more points in 25 games already this season. Last season, they gave up 100 or more in 16 games.

2. Lack of effort

Maybe more damning is the fact that the Bulls look lifeless through long stretches in games.

"It's a compilation of things," Thibodeau said, when asked why the intensity continues to disappear for stretches. "Where do you get your intensity from? You get it from your concentration and maximum effort. And how do you build that habit? You build it through repetition like you do through everything else. Practice is important. Practicing together is important. All those things are. Your meetings are important. Shootarounds are important. It's all important."

Thibodeau has repeatedly referenced practice, and repetition, as a big part of his team's struggles, but playing hard is just as important as skill. And the Bulls aren't performing up to their capabilities in this area.

3. Reliance on offense

When describing their woes, many players have talked openly about relying too much on offense. After lacking it over the past few seasons, especially when Rose has been out, the Bulls now have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive end. The Bulls are averaging 105 points per 100 possessions, just shy of their best in the Thibodeau era (105.7 in 2011-12).

"As I say, you can't shortcut the process," Thibodeau said. "The process is the whole thing. We got to put the work into it. We can't pick and choose when we're going to do things. The only way you can improve and execute is through repetition. You can't get around that."

4. Where's the fun?

Ask yourself this question: When was the last time you saw this group having fun on the floor together?

There hasn't been much to enjoy lately (5-10 over their past 15 games), but it also doesn't look like this group enjoys playing together as much as they used to. Have the players tuned out Thibodeau? If that were the case, the Bulls would just roll over on the veteran coach completely. They've still been able to get wins against good teams like San Antonio, Dallas and Golden State. But the argument could be made that they aren't listenting as intently as they did in years past, and bad losses to Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers in the past week and a half point to that.

Jimmy Butler has a simple theory as to how his team can start having fun again.

"Win," he said. "That's the fun part of this game is winning, bottom line, however you want to put it. We got to figure out a way to win games because whenever you're winning that's fun, whenever you're losing, that sucks."

5. Noah and Gasol don't mix

The Bulls already already 50 games into the season, and Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are not playing well together. They don't seem to know where to be when they are on the floor together, and the spacing -- on both ends -- is impaired because of it.

Gasol's personal numbers are up and he has admitted several times he feels rejuvenated in Chicago. But Noah's numbers are down and he doesn't look like the first-team All-NBA center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Yes, he has been hurt much of the season and is still trying to find his form, but his incompatibility with Gasol is becoming more apparent. In the duo's 810 minutes together, the Bulls are 0.7 points per 100 possessions worse than their overall level of performance, according to

6. Rose isn't the same

The good news for the Bulls is that Rose is healthy after missing most of November with various injuries. The bad news is that he hasn't shown to be the same player he was before his first knee injury in April 2012.

Rose is still knocking the rust off his game and holds firm to the belief there is another level he can get to this season. But he continues to settle for way too many jumpers and doesn't drive as much to the rim as he did in years past. The 26-year-old has already taken 223 3-pointers this season, the most he's ever had in 50 games during a season in his career, and has attempted 55.4 percent of his shots from outside the paint this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info -- the most in any season of his career.

After going 2-for-9 from beyond the arc in Wednesday's loss, Rose is now shooting just 29.6 percent from 3 on the season. He continues to say those are the shots that are given to him, but that doesn't always mean he should take them.

7. Mirotic is still a rookie

Nikola Mirotic has had some very good games and some very bad ones this season. In other words, he's a rookie. But the Bulls were relying on him to be a big part of their rotation. After a strong December, Mirotic has scored just 81 points over his past 15 games, an average of 5.4 points a game. What compounds the issue is that Thibodeau still doesn't trust Mirotic defensively, hence the lack of minutes in recent weeks for the soon-to-be 24-year-old.

8. Hinrich has lost a step

Kirk Hinrich is one of the most respected players in the Bulls' locker room and is trusted implicitly by Thibodeau. But the 34-year-old guard is struggling this season. Aside from the fact that Hinrich is shooting just 36.5 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from the 3-point line, he looks a step slow defensively. The effort is there most nights, but the timing on the defensive end is not. His PER is just 7.11, the ninth-lowest rating in the league out of 345 qualifiers. He is averaging 27.3 minutes a game.

9. Snell and McDermott are not contributing

The Bulls' last two first-round picks are not giving them anything at the moment. They haven't exactly been given a chance by Thibodeau, but it's evident the head coach doesn't trust either player much on the floor right now, especially defensively.

Tony Snell has played at least 20 minutes in 10 games in the past month. In those 10 games, he is averaging 7.5 points a game. But since Jan. 1 there have also been four games in which he didn't play at all because of a coach's decision.

As for Doug McDermott, Thibodeau gave him some rotational minutes early in the season but he did not produce. He was getting open looks, but he didn't knock them down, shooting just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc in his first month. McDermott has played a grand total of two minutes since returning from a knee scope late last month. Thibodeau admitted Friday that there is a chance the Bulls may send McDermott to the D-League to get some more minutes after the All-Star break.

"We'll probably get to the break and then look at all the options from there," Thibodeau said. "I think the big thing, particularly with a rookie where he missed all that time, you still want to have your hands on him here and then if we feel like the playing time is a priority we'll go from there."

10. Injuries take a toll

Like every other team in the NBA, the Bulls have dealt with their share of injuries. Until the last week or so, Noah hadn't looked right physically after offseason knee surgery. Rose was in and out of the lineup in November because of various ailments. Gasol, Butler and Taj Gibson have missed a combined 15 games as well. Mike Dunleavy has missed 17 straight games because of a nagging right ankle injury.

All of these health-related problems are a factor, but this roster is too talented not to be able to overcome the hurdles. So often in Thibodeau's tenure, he and his players have viewed injuries more as a hurdle to clear. This season, all parties seem to be using the setbacks more as a crutch.

11. Thibodeau and the front office are at odds

The tension between Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office is at an all-time high. With all the speculation regarding Thibodeau's future in Chicago and the Bulls underperforming, Thibodeau, Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson are all feeling the heat. But the in-fighting and frustration behind the scenes isn't serving anyone well. The argument could be made that players don't care about the relationship between a coach and his front office, that it doesn't make a difference in regard to on-court performance. But it doesn't help either. To think that the players, and those in their inner-circles, aren't aware of what's going on behind the scenes would be naive at best.

As tough as it may be for them, Thibodeau, Forman and Paxson should come to a truce, at least until the end of the season. The trust may be broken forever, but it shouldn't impact the short-term future of the organization. Hard feelings should be pushed aside for the greater short-term goals of the team.

Bulls glimpse the Joakim Noah they require

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
Friedell By Nick Friedell
SAN FRANCISCO -- As Tuesday's shootaround came to an end and Chicago Bulls head trainer Jeff Tanaka wrapped big ice packs around Joakim Noah's knees, the All-Star center sat on a folding chair on the edge of the University of San Francisco's gym and launched into a familiar refrain regarding the knee and ankle injuries that have caused problems for him all season.

"I feel like I'm 100 percent," Noah said. "I feel good health-wise."

It was easy to be skeptical of this answer given that Noah said the same thing several times already this season. The difference between Tuesday's proclamation compared to all the others is that Noah's performance on the floor finally backed up his words.

He scored 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out six assists in Tuesday's impressive win over the Golden State Warriors. Aside from the numbers, the biggest difference in Noah's game was on the defensive end. He moved better laterally than he had all season, covering the floor all night against a quick, perimeter-oriented squad.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezIf the Bulls get the kind of play out of Joakim Noah they received against Golden State, then the future looks bright indeed for Chicago's postseason hopes.
"I thought Jo was great [Tuesday]," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Great. His best game of the year. He's got a lot of pride. The last three or four days he's been working like crazy after games, before practice; he really played a great game. The extra work that he put in and the way he played was terrific."

Noah's movement around the floor was one of the biggest differences in the game. His play was a reminder of just how important he is for a Bulls squad that has championship aspirations. The Bulls need Derrick Rose to lead them offensively in order to reach their goals, but Noah is just as important on the defensive end. If he plays the way he did on Tuesday, they have a chance to win a title. If he plays the way he's been playing throughout much of the season, they do not.

"I think it was the first game we both played well, at that level," Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. "We kept a lot of balls alive, we made plays, we both had big games, huge contributions, so it was good to see. I think Jo needed a game like this to get himself going and get a little more confidence in himself, so it's been great."

Noah has always been the type of emotional player who thrives off the success of his teammates. But as Gasol alluded to, a game like Tuesday's, against a team as hot as the Warriors, could do wonders for Noah's game moving forward. Up to this point in the season, Noah has looked like a shell of the player who won the defensive player of the year award a season ago. He looked a step slow and was noticeably frustrated on and off the floor throughout the season. His team had success -- but he couldn't find much for himself.

After watching him contribute on all levels Tuesday night, his teammates and coaches are hoping this is a sign of things to come.

"I don't want to say anything crazy and then stink it up the next game," Noah said of his performance. "Just got to keep working at it."

If Noah continues playing at the the high level he displayed on Tuesday, the Bulls' defensive woes should become less of an issue.

Noah is still trying to find his way with Gasol on the floor, but the pair continues to learn more about each other each game and is slowly starting to find a rhythm. That pacing is contingent on Noah continuing to play like his old self. He remains confident that the time is coming when he'll be ready before the Bulls' postseason run begins, but nobody is quite sure whether his body will hold up for five more months of work.

If it does, he might look back on Tuesday as the turning point of one of the most up-and-down seasons of his career.

Bulls finally close out a bad team late

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
Friedell By Nick Friedell
BOSTON -- Joakim Noah stood toward the back of the visitor's locker room in the TD Garden late Friday night with an embarrassed smile on his face. Noah, the emotional leader of the Chicago Bulls who sat out Friday night's 119-103 win over the Boston Celtics because of a sprained right ankle, earned a rare NBA distinction during the game. With 4:33 left in the third quarter of a tight game, Noah picked up a technical foul for arguing with the officials. After the game ended, he was taking some good-natured ribbing for his indiscretion.

"It got us going," he joked from the trainer's table.

While Noah will surely argue about how much his contribution mattered on the way back to Chicago, the reality for the Bulls is that they finally closed out a game the way a championship-caliber team is supposed to against a bad opponent. After watching his team lose four of its last five, including two homes games to poor teams such as the Utah Jazz and the Orlando Magic, the entire locker room operated with a sense of relief hovering over it after everything ended.

"We got to play like that for the whole game," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said of his team's fourth-quarter performance. "We play like that for 48 minutes, getting stops, teams won't score 90 points and damn sure won't score 100. I think it's going to always end up starting on the defensive end for us."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose found his offensive game, scoring 20 of his 29 points in the second half.
After playing such porous defense on and off throughout the season, especially in the last two weeks, the Bulls appeared to be sleepwalking through much of this one before they woke up before the final 12 minutes began. The Celtics shot 60 percent from the field in the first half but managed only 17 points in the fourth quarter. Not only did the Bulls hit crucial shots down the stretch, as evidenced by their 31-point output in the final 12 minutes, they made stops when they needed them most.

"We can be very dangerous," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "I think we all know that. It's just a matter of fact that it's on the defensive side. We can score all we want, but when we're allowing teams to get 100, 105 points every game it's going to be a tough game. Then if our shots aren't falling at the end, it could be a really tough game for us. So offensively we're not worried about that, defensively, that's our whole key right there."

As crucial as it is for the Bulls to play solid defense, it's just as important that their three primary scorers, Butler, Rose and Pau Gasol take over when needed late in games. That was the case Friday as the trio racked up a combined 71 points, 19 rebounds and 16 assists and seven steals (a career-high six from Butler). After struggling for the last few games to find a rhythm, Butler looked more aggressive and confident. Gasol was his usual steady self, and Rose made it a point to drive to the rim early and assert himself.

In a season full of ups and downs, Friday night's performance was one of the most complete of the season for Rose, who also knocked down five of his eight 3-point attempts and had 10 assists.

"It's good," Thibodeau said of having Rose, Butler and Gasol playing at a high level together. "It's nice to have those three back playing together. I think we've been a strong fourth-quarter team almost the entire year, minus this last lull over the past five games. We know they have the capability. I think what you're seeing is Derrick's getting stronger and stronger. I think he's gaining confidence. I think he's getting that competitive edge back. When you're out as long as he's been out you miss that part also. You're going against a great player, a great team, every night. So you can start to see [his momentum] is coming."

If the Bulls could get a healthy Noah back along with veteran shooter Mike Dunleavy, they'll be in even better shape down the stretch. But for now, they'll always have the laughs that came with Noah's "cashmere T" on Friday night.

It's not often a player earns a technical foul in a cashmere sweater, but after a much needed win, the Bulls can deal with it.

"That's Joakim," Rose said with a smile. "That's Jo, man. We're rolling with him. We understand him."

Dunleavy out again; Noah feeling better

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Mike Dunleavy will not play Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz as he continues to deal with a right ankle injury. Dunleavy, who injured the ankle on Jan. 1 against the Denver Nuggets, was riding a stationary bike at the end of shootaround and is no longer wearing a walking boot. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn't reveal who would be starting in Dunleavy's place, but rookie Nikola Mirotic is getting more comfortable playing the 3.

In other injury related news, both Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose are expected to play Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday's practice. Noah said he is feeling much better than he did at the beginning of the season. The All-Star center has been trying to get back into a rhythm since having arthroscopic knee surgery right after last season.

"I'm feeling a lot better," Noah said. "I think I still have another gear to get to, but overall I'm just feeling a lot better every day and that's a blessing."

Noah said one of the keys for him is the regiment in which he has tried to get his body back in order.

"Just a lot of weight training, a lot of pool training," Noah said. "Flexibility. Ice, a lot more ice. A lot of cold tubs."

Bulls having fun with their new 'versatility'

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls beat the Houston Rockets at their own game Monday night, and that should be a terrifying thought for the rest of the NBA.

They raced up and down the floor all night, going shot-for-shot with one of the best teams in the Western Conference, but they still managed to find ways to make key defensive stops when they needed them late.

"It shows the versatility of this ballclub," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "There's a lot of talent. I think we got stops when we needed to, and there's a lot of guys playing at a high level right now. It's just fun to be a part of."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bulls are vastly improved on the offensive end this season, even with Derrick Rose still trying to regain his form.
That the Bulls beat the Rockets isn't a surprise, given that Chicago has won nine of its past 10 and is in the midst of one of the best streaks of the Tom Thibodeau era. But after years of being a defensive-minded, offensively challenged team, the Bulls are showing they can win in different ways. They have enough offensive depth to beat teams from different angles.

Pau Gasol scored 18 of his 27 points in the first quarter and continues to provide the type of low-post threat the Bulls have been missing for years. Jimmy Butler continued his All-Star push in scoring 22 points and limiting the Rockets' James Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, in the second half.

The fact that the Bulls are doing all this while Derrick Rose continues to struggle with his shot makes the recent wins even more impressive.

"It just shows how resilient we are," Butler said of winning in different ways.

To put the offensive growth in perspective, the Bulls came into Monday's game averaging 105.9 points per 100 possessions, which is the most efficient they've been in the Thibs era, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

In 2012-13, the Bulls were 24th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. In 2013-14, they were 28th. The fact that they have jumped all the way to seventh shows how deep the roster has become with the play of Gasol, Butler and rookie Nikola Mirotic, who chipped in with 17 points Monday.

"It's big," Butler said of the Bulls' confidence in their offense. "Whenever we start locking teams down and then still being able to score, I think the game is going to be a lot easier. We don't have to worry about digging ourself a hole and getting out of it."

The Bulls are now averaging 103.1 points per game. That's almost 10 more a game than they've been averaging the past two years. They're also averaging 9.4 more points a game this season, compared to last year, which is the biggest leap in the league.

As happy as the Bulls are about the jump they've made, Noah doesn't want them to lose sight of the defensive culture, which has been created over the years by Thibodeau and the players.

"Don't say defensive mentality like that's a negative," Noah said. "It's important. You need to be able to play defense if you want to win big in this league. But you also need to be able to score, and this is definitely the best offensive team that I've been a part of in my NBA career. But that being said, just because we can score doesn't mean that defense isn't important or as important. It's just as important."

Defensive intensity is in this group's DNA. That's why the players realize they can be so much better once they start playing more consistent defense again. But Monday's game is another step in the progression of a special team. Over the years, they've had a handful of wins over Western Conference teams when they played this kind of pace and still won, but it didn't happen often.

"It feels great," Gasol said. "I like what we have. I like the way we're doing things. I like our potential. Our potential, I think, is incredible. But we just got to continue to work, not be content and, defensively, kind of demand more of ourselves ... I think we're doing great. We're showing great quality on the floor. We just got to keep it up. We got to keep working and staying locked in."

Pau Gasol's nine blocks pace swat record

January, 1, 2015
Jan 1
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
CHICAGO -- The Bulls set a franchise record with 18 blocked shots in a 106-101 win over Denver on Thursday.

So naturally, Joakim Noah was pretty excited, right? Not really.

“[Bleeping] awesome,” Noah said with a deadpan delivery. “Oh my God, it’s amazing. Best feeling ever.”

Noah's not much for sports trivia. The Bulls had 16 blocks, the previous franchise-high, on Jan. 20, 2012.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
AP Photo/Paul BeatyPau Gasol with one of his nine shot denials, this one on Timofey Mozgov.
Noah had three blocks Thursday, but Pau Gasol led the way with a career-high nine, to go along with 17 points and nine rebounds. He had eight blocks twice before in his decorated career.

“Surprisingly I had nine blocks, which doesn’t happen very often,” Gasol said. “Career high in my 14th year.”

The Bulls played a slugging first half but turned up the heat on Denver in the third quarter, outscoring Denver 35-21 and erasing a 53-42 halftime deficit. The Nuggets shot 8-for-25 in the third.

Gasol had five blocks in the third quarter and Jimmy Butler scored 15 points of his team-high 26, hitting all four of his field goals and all six free throws.

Gasol was subbed out with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter and a triple-double in his sights. Asked facetiously if he knew he was close to a triple-double at the time, Gasol said yes.

“I was,” he said. “I keep track of my stats.”

When reporters started chuckling, as most players pretend they don’t know their numbers even though they’re right there on a giant scoreboard, Gasol corrected them.

“I do, I really do,” he said. “I know what I have pretty much at all times. It’s in my mind, I can’t help it.”

He returned with 11 seconds left when Taj Gibson fouled out, but didn't get any counting stats.

Gasol is averaging 17.6 points and 11 rebounds this season, and as of the most recent All-Star vote tally, was slated to start for the Eastern Conference.

DUN NOT DONE: Mike Dunleavy left the game with 7:42 remaining in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain suffered while playing defense. He didn’t return to the game. Dunleavy said X-rays were negative after the game.

“We’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Dunleavy said. “It’s all about when you get up and how stiff and swollen it is. Hopefully it won’t be too bad.”

He said it’s “basically a sprain” but not a typical “rolling of the ankle.”

“I just jammed it really bad,” he said.

Dunleavy hasn’t missed any action in his two seasons with the Bulls, playing 114 regular-season games in a row.

“That’s the goal, play them all,” he said. “That’s what you get paid for.”

In related news, Kirk Hinrich returned after a five-game absence and scored 10 points. He hit all four of his field goal attempts, including two 3-point attempts. His corner 3 with 16 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Bulls a 77-74 lead going into the fourth.

Rose, Bulls draw it up perfectly in D.C.

December, 23, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- This is the way things are supposed to work for the Chicago Bulls.

This is the way Gar Forman, John Paxson and Tom Thibodeau drew it up over the summer. Tuesday's 99-91 win over the Washington Wizards unfolded exactly how the Bulls' triumvirate envisioned. A deep Bulls' roster would build a lead heading into the fourth quarter against a quality opponent, and then Derrick Rose would shut things down late in the game.

Those visions have become realities for the Bulls over the past week, as they've put together one of the most impressive stretches in the past three years. Four wins in a row, the past three of which came against Memphis, Toronto and Washington -- teams that have a combined record of 62-22.

"It's real," Bulls center Joakim Noah said of the recent stretch. "Chicago Bulls are getting healthy. It's very real. We know that we're still not where we want to be. And we know the sky's the limit for our team. Our confidence is just getting better, and we're going to keep working, and we feel like we can even get better defensively. But it's all coming, and it's going to be a special year."

The frightening part for the rest of the league is, if the Bulls can somehow stay healthy and continue playing together, they are going to be even better a few months from now than they are right now. That's part of the reason the confidence Noah exudes right now is off the charts. The other reason is, for the second straight game, Rose put the Bulls on his back in the fourth quarter.

After scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth Monday night against the Raptors, Rose scored 10 of his 25 in the fourth Tuesday night against the Wizards. He's not all the way back to where he was before he tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012, but this recent stretch is as close as he has been.

"He's stringing the games together, and so that's important," Thibodeau said. "He had the two games when he was sick, and then he's picked up right where he left off. The good thing was him working through the back-to-backs. It's been a step-by-step process. This is really the first time he's played really well in a back-to-back. He's been playing and playing pretty good minutes in the back-to-backs, and he's felt good, but you could tell his confidence is growing. He's feeling a lot better, and that's great."

What's also great for Thibodeau is the depth he has to work with on a nightly basis. Noah called this Bulls squad the most talented offensive team he's been on since being in Chicago. That point is underscored by the fact that Jimmy Butler, who had a rare off-night on Tuesday and went just 4-for-13 from the field, still has developed to the point that he's opened up space on the floor for Rose.

"Even with me with a live dribble, I know it's dangerous," Rose said. "So to see the attention going somewhere else or going so many places now, it's kind of new for me. A lot of people want me to score 30 points in the first half, [but] I don't have to. I can pick and choose when I want to score or try to change the game. And that's all I'm trying to do with this team."

The former MVP says teams still aren't doubling him, in part because of all the other options the Bulls have on the floor. Between Butler's ability to get to the rim, Pau Gasol's ability to score down on the blocks, Aaron Brooks' ability to penetrate and create his own shot and Nikola Mirotic's long-range jumper, the Bulls are dramatically different than the team that lost to the Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season. Unlike in years past, Thibodeau's team has several weapons to go to on the floor when Rose isn't in rhythm, a credit to Forman and Paxson for creating a deeper roster in the offseason.

As usual with the Bulls, though, everything revolves around Rose. He's proving yet again that even after being out of the game for most of the past two years, he still has the rare ability to turn a game around -- or close one out -- by himself. He never doubted he would be able to do it again, despite all the fans and pundits who thought otherwise. He believes the Bulls are getting used to playing with one another again -- a fact proven in their recent play.

"Just having faith, man," Rose said of maintaining his confidence over the past two years. "I know how special I am as a player. I really feel like I was born to play this sport. I bring joy to people whenever I play. That's all I can say about it."

That's all he and the Bulls need to say right now. Their play is saying more than any other words could.

Butler, Mirotic lead Bulls to season's top W

December, 19, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
MEMPHIS -- Tom Thibodeau loves to say that every regular-season game counts the same. It's his mantra. He wants his team to play hard every night no matter the circumstances or the opponent. But after the Bulls' impressive 103-97 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night Joakim Noah didn't want to stick to Thibodeau's creed. The Bulls had just knocked off one of the best teams in the NBA -- a team that had toppled the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs on consecutive nights earlier in the week -- and they did so on the back end of a back-to-back playing without Derrick Rose [illness] and Taj Gibson [right ankle] for the second straight night.

Noah didn't buy into the notion that this was just another game, because the All-Star center knew that wasn't the prevailing thought in an excited Bulls' locker room. He knew that given the circumstances, and the opponent, this was the Bulls' best win of the season.

"I'm not Thibs," Noah said as he slipped on his shoes in front of his locker. "Are you kidding? I'm not Thibs. So just because he says something doesn't mean that I feel the same way about everything."

Noah and Thibodeau, the yin and yang that makes the Bulls go on most nights, could agree on this late Friday, no matter how the demanding coach wanted to term this game, the Bulls put together one of their most complete performances of the season against a red-hot Grizzlies squad. After a lackluster showing in Thursday's win over the New York Knicks, the Bulls responded with the type of defensive intensity that has become a Bulls' staple under Thibodeau. They also continued to ride the coattails of one of the hottest players in the NBA: Jimmy Butler.

For the second straight night, Butler put the Bulls on his back at times and displayed the type of offensive confidence that has come to define the first two months of his breakout season. Once an offensive liability, Butler has become the first offensive option on most nights for a Bulls team that remains in a state of limbo because of Rose's health.

In the span of 24 hours, Butler racked up 66 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, and six steals in a combined 88 minutes.

"Every time that game was hanging in the balance, he came through with a big play for us," Thibodeau said of Butler. "Clutch play after clutch play, great defense, no possessions off, plays with great intensity, great concentration, you can't say enough about what he does. To win on the road like this against a team like that -- and people are game-planning for him too -- but he's making the right play and that's the important thing."

Butler insists he's still just a role player playing on a great team, but his numbers say otherwise. Not only is he running away with the Most Improved Player Award right now, he's developing into one of the very best two-way players in the game.

[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic, Zach Randolph
AP Photo/Brandon DillWhen not banging down low with Zach Randolph, Nikola Mirotic was sinking all six of his 3-point tries.
"It feels good," Butler said of being the first offensive option in some games. "Because I definitely know where I'm going to get my shots from and then it helps me get in a rhythm a lot easier. A lot of that's on my teammates. I may be the first option but that doesn't mean that I'm the only option. And if I don't get the ball on the first side they always look for me on the second side."

Aside from Butler, the player the Bulls continued to look toward Friday was Nikola Mirotic. The rookie was 6-for-6 from beyond the arc and racked up a career-high 27 points. As much of a surprise as Butler's offensive maturation has been, Mirotic's play over the last couple of weeks has been almost as much of a revelation. He looks much more confident on the floor and grows more dangerous seemingly every game.

While the rest of the league may be surprised by Mirotic's ability, it doesn't come as a shock to many within the Bulls organization. They've also believed he was this good and now he has proven it in small doses. About the only thing Mirotic didn't connect with Friday night was a celebratory postgame handshake with Noah.

"A lot of times with shooters, they're one-dimensional," Noah said of Mirotic. "I think this guy's the real deal. And I think that he's just getting better every game and that's big for us. He just adds a whole different dimension."

There's one of the biggest differences for this Bulls team this season. After years of wondering where they would get consistent offense from other than Rose, Thibodeau's team has become more multi-dimensional than ever, especially on offense. Even little-used guard E'Twaun Moore hit two clutch free throws in the final seconds to help ice the game. Butler has become the kind of star force that the Bulls have been yearning for for years. Pau Gasol continues to play at an All-Star level while Noah said after the game this is the best he has felt physically all season after dealing with lingering knee and ankle issues.

The scariest part for the rest of the league is that the Bulls are going to be even better when Rose and Gibson return. But for now, Noah and his teammates will soak up the next couple of off days knowing they just pulled out a game that many didn't think they could win. Noah said he drew more motivation for Friday night's performance after Gasol told his teammates that this game against the team he started his NBA career with meant a lot to him.

"That was cool," Noah said. "I like that sentimental sh--."

Bulls' Noah out again vs. Hawks

December, 15, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ATLANTA -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will not play Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. It is the fourth straight game the All-Star center has missed because of lingering ankle and knee injuries.

"He's doing more and more," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. "I think he's getting close. He's feeling a little bit better. But we're just going to take it day by day, let him continue to work. He's doing more on the floor now, running, jumping, stuff like that."

Thibodeau said the right ankle injury is of bigger concern to the Bulls right now. Noah initially sprained the ankle last week in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks and then sprained it again in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He played Dec. 13 against the Golden State Warriors but has not played again since.

Thibodeau was non-committal when asked if Noah would be able to return Thursday night against the New York Knicks.

"The ankle right now is the [bigger issue]," Thibodeau said. "He's got to get that where he's comfortable enough to get out there. He's working hard and we just got to be patient."

Noah, Gasol, two others held from practice

December, 11, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Bulls big men Pau Gasol (shoulder/chest) and Joakim Noah (knee/ankle), along with second-year swingman Tony Snell (personal reasons) and rookie Doug McDermott (knee), did not practice on Thursday.

Gasol, who said he took a shot to the chest from Brooklyn Nets guard Sergey Karasev in Wednesday night's win, expects to play on Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Noah and McDermott have both been ruled out for Friday.

Noah missed Wednesday's game because of ongoing problems with his knee and ankle. He left the United Center Wednesday night with a big ice pack on his left knee, the same one he had arthroscopic surgery on right after last season ended. Power forward Taj Gibson is expected to start in his place for the second straight game.

McDermott underwent an MRI on his sore right knee but Tom Thibodeau was not forthcoming about the results.

Noah still dealing with knee, ankle injuries

December, 10, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- On the official injury release the Bulls sent out in advance of Wednesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets, All-Star center Joakim Noah was listed as "out" because of continuing problems with his right ankle. But when asked after Wednesday's shootaround whether it was just the ankle that was bothering Noah, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged there was another lingering issue at play.

"He's still working through the knee as well," Thibodeau said.

While those close to Noah insist that structurally his left knee, the one he had arthroscopic surgery on right after the season, is fine, the fact that Thibodeau continues to acknowledge it as an issue is cause for concern. Thibodeau has remained hopeful throughout the year that it wouldn't be a long-term issue, but even he doesn't seem to be sure. With the ankle injury compounding Noah's injury woes in the last week, it will be something to keep an eye on for the foreseeable future.

As for rookie Doug McDermott, Thibodeau said that he had an MRI on his right knee, but was unclear on the results.

"It's day to day," Thibodeau said. "We want to see how it's going to respond, to see if it improves. I'm not sure on that one."

McDermott has been out for over a week after his knee swelled up following the Bulls' 15-day road trip.

The Bulls come into Wednesday's game with a 2-5 home record, and power forward Taj Gibson admitted that Thibodeau has been on his players even more than usual the last couple of days in practice.

"Practice the last few days was tough," Gibson said. "You could tell on everybody's face everybody was kind of pissed. But we needed that. We kind of got away from our defensive ways and he was really on us and it was a good couple days of practice."

In or out: Noah, McDermott and Gibson

December, 6, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah (right ankle), Taj Gibson (left ankle) and Doug McDermott (right knee) are all game-time decisions for Saturday night's game against the Golden State Warriors. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said Gibson and McDermott went through all of Saturday morning's shootaround, while Noah went through part of it. Noah, who initially sprained his ankle in Tuesday's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, and then sprained it again in Wednesday's win over the Charlotte Hornets, was in good spirits after shootaround, but wasn't sure if he would play.

"It's felt better," Noah said of his injured ankle. "We'll see [about tonight]. Get some more treatment and see how I feel."

Gibson has been out since Nov. 21 when he sprained his ankle in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. McDermott has missed the last two games after his knee swelled up after the Bulls' win over the Brooklyn Nets last Sunday. Thibodeau sounded hopeful that all three would be able to play against a red-hot Warriors team.

"We'll see," Thibodeau said of Noah's potential availability. "Hopefully he'll be fine."

Pau Gasol fitting right in with tough Bulls

December, 3, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Thibodeau doesn't love soft players. He doesn't have respect for guys who go through the motions and don't give everything they have to the team.

That's why, after just one month of the season, it's so interesting to hear Thibodeau speak about Pau Gasol after games.

Fairly or unfairly, Gasol developed a "soft" tag at various points of his career. Thibodeau, who detests the idea of one of his players being "soft," knows how important Gasol has been to the development of a team that appears destined for championship contention later this season if it can stay healthy.

[+] EnlargeGasol
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith 19 points and 15 rebounds against the Hornets, Pau Gasol posted his fifth straight double-double and 11th of the season.
"Pau has great toughness and that's what I love about him," Thibodeau said after watching Gasol rack up 19 points and 15 rebounds in the Chicago Bulls' 102-95 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. "The mental toughness is what's huge for our team."

It's that toughness that helped push Gasol through the physical and mental hurdles that comes after playing 50 minutes in a double-overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

"That's what a championship player does," Thibodeau said. "That's what this league is about. That you got to have the toughness to get through things. It's not easy."

The 34-year-old Gasol has proven quickly to Thibodeau and his new teammates that he has plenty left in the tank and can be counted on every night. He's also proven to be someone the rest of his teammates listen to in the locker room. Thibodeau said Gasol spoke to the Bulls after Tuesday's loss about staying focused and playing hard on the second night of a back-to-back. It's clearly a message that got through.

"Pau's been huge for us in that regard," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "Everybody knows what kind of experience he has, the types of teams he's been on, championship teams. When he speaks, guys listen, and it's just invaluable to have him on this team in that regard."

It's also invaluable to play for a team that picks one another up on and off the floor. While Gasol's words may have set the tone, it was also clear that the Bulls wanted to win Wednesday's game for Hinrich, after his admitted "bonehead play" that sent Mavericks guard Monta Ellis to the free-throw line at the end of regulation and, ultimately, into overtime.

Bulls center Joakim Noah, who reinjured his right ankle early in the game but continued to play through the pain, said the Bulls wanted to win the game for Hinrich's hometown of Sioux City, Iowa.

"Kirk is a pro," Thibodeau said after the game. "He's a pro. He does so much for our team. I think all his teammates know how valuable he is to our team. We share in everything together and he's made a number of big plays. His toughness is what's helped us prevail over the past two years. Whatever you need, he does. You can start him, bring him off the bench, play him at the point, play him at the 2. [He] makes tough plays, gives himself up, practices hard every day, makes physical, tough plays. The things that he does on the floor, they do nothing but inspire your team. And he unites guys, so he gets everyone playing for the team."

The same could be said about Gasol.

When the Bulls signed him over the summer, the organization was hopeful he would have a positive impact in the locker room and on the court. Averaging 20 points and 11.2 rebounds a game and fitting in quickly into the fabric of Thibodeau's locker room, Gasol has exceeded all early expectations.

He acknowledged after the game that the fighting spirit the Bulls have shown over the Thibodeau era is something that drew him to Chicago.

"The resiliency of this team definitely attracted me," Gasol said. "How these guys have fought through adversity in different situations, injuries and stuff, and they've still been able to perform at a pretty high level, all things considered. So I thought with my addition things could be even better."

It has been through the first month. Gasol continues to play great along with freshly minted Eastern Conference player of the month Jimmy Butler. Once Noah and Derrick Rose get healthy the Bulls will be even more formidable.

For the time being, Noah is just happy to rack up another win on a night when lesser teams might have just mailed it in on the second night of a back-to-back that came after a 15-day road trip.

"I love that because I think this is the identity of our team," Noah said. "When we hit adversity and when things are tough, I feel like we bring it. It makes us closer as a group, and I think it's good."

Noah plays through pain of injured ankle

December, 3, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the second consecutive game, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah sprained his right ankle. And for the second consecutive game, Noah played through that pain, this time leading the Bulls to a 102-95 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Noah sprained the ankle again about three minutes into Wednesday's game, falling to the floor and writhing in pain. After the Bulls called a timeout, almost the entire bench emptied onto the floor to check on the fallen All-Star. He stayed in the game, but went back to the locker room to get the ankle re-taped at the end of the first quarter. He finished the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 32 minutes.

Noah said his ankle is still a little sore.

"It's felt better," Noah said. "But it's also felt worse."

Noah said it was his decision to go back in the game and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau agreed after Noah was cleared by the Bulls' medical staff, despite the fact that Noah was noticeably limping when he first returned.

"No, not really," Thibodeau said when asked if he had any hesitation on putting Noah back into the game. "When it happened we called a timeout and we asked him where he thought he was and he talked to the trainer and I've got great faith in Jeff Tanaka. I think he's one of the best out there, so if he says he can go, he goes, and if he says he can't go, he can't go.

"Jo's a tough guy, and I like the way he's coming around. He's playing great basketball right now. I think his conditioning is really coming on, his timing is back, [he's] making a lot of great plays out there. Can't say enough about him, either."

Noah said he just wanted to be back on the floor to help his team win.

"I just wanted to play," he said. "I just felt like playing. Only you as a player know how much you can withhold. I just felt like I could play today."



Jimmy Butler
20.2 3.3 1.8 39.2
ReboundsP. Gasol 12.1
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.8
BlocksP. Gasol 2.1