Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Noah out against Pistons; Rose plays

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
7:41
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will not play Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons, as he continues to recover from offseason left knee surgery. The night off did not come as a surprise given Tom Thibodeau said Monday it was likely Noah wouldn't play. As for how Noah's schedule looks during the rest of the preseason, Thibodeau is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We'll see," Thibodeau said. "Medically, if he needs time off, then he should take it. Practice is important, playing's important, conditioning's important, playing together with the team is important. So those are the things that go into winning. But if he needs time off, we got to give it to him."

Noah is onboard with the plan, but it was clear during his 14 minutes of play Monday night that he is still getting used to playing with the bulky left-knee brace.

"I had knee surgery, and the first two games are a back-to-back," Noah said after Monday's win. "So it's the smart thing to do. I feel pretty good. I wanted to play more. Trust me, if it was my choice I'd be playing. But I'm going to stick to this, and I'm going to use this to get better."

Derrick Rose started Tuesday's game, and Thibodeau said he expects to play the former MVP about as much as he did Monday, which was about 14 minutes of first-half action.

New Pistons' head coach Stan Van Gundy is impressed by the progress Rose has made.

"His quickness is back," Van Gundy said. "There's no question. Even last night, early in the game, he got three really good attacks in transition going to the basket. He's played a lot of basketball now on the way back, so I think he's pretty well ready to go, it seems.

"I wish it weren't true, but I think it is."

Noah excited about the new-look Bulls

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
5:20
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah said Friday he likes what the Bulls have done in the offseason and has gotten over Carmelo Anthony's decision to re-sign with the New York Knicks.

"I'm really excited," Noah said of the Bulls on Friday. "I think Gar [Forman] and [John Paxson] and everybody did a real good job. I'm really, really excited about the Bulls. It just makes you want to work hard and be as ready as possible for the upcoming season."

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Joakim Noah
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJoakim Noah looks forward to matching up against LeBron James' Cavaliers this season.
Noah hoped Anthony would join the Bulls and he helped recruit him, but he understands Anthony's decision.

"I think he did the right decision for him," Noah said. "We obviously recruited him pretty hard. I think he had to make the best decision for him. I'm really excited for our team the way it is. I think we're deeper. I think those things, me personally, I can't control where another man goes. He feels like New York is the best position for him. I'm happy for him. But at the end of the day, what I care about is this city and the Chicago Bulls."

Noah is especially excited about adding Pau Gasol to the Bulls' frontcourt.

"I think it's going to be great," Noah said. "Pau is someone who is very, very smart. I think his father was a doctor. Someone who comes with a lot of experience. Not just a great player, but somebody who cares about the community as well. I'm excited to see him help us as well to try to slow down the violence and help the kids out here in Chicago. Somebody who is also very humbling to play with, somebody who has won championships and with his pedigree somebody I can really learn from."

Noah reported he's been rehabbing his left knee every day after having arthroscopic surgery in May.

He has also kept tabs on teammate Derrick Rose and his road to recovery in the offseason.

"I'm really proud of him because I know he sacrificed his whole summer," Noah said. "He sacrificed a lot to be the best that he can. That's all you can do. People's expectations, all that stuff doesn't matter. I'm proud of him for putting the work that he put in to be in the best position possible. He's doing a lot of things. He's helping us out too with our foundation. I got nothing but love for him."

Noah doesn't exactly have love for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, though.

"Good for LeBron," Noah said of James rejoining the Cavaliers. "I'm happy for LeBron James. He gets to go home. People are happy over there. But I really hope that we can kick his [butt] as many times as possible."

Bulls' Noah named to All-NBA first team

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
12:08
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah added another honor to his career-best season when he was named to the All-NBA first team on Wednesday.

Noah
Noah joins Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and James Harden of the Houston Rockets on the first team.

Noah won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in April and was named to the all-defensive first team on Monday. The honors cap a season in which Noah put up career-highs with 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He anchored a Bulls defense that held opponents to a .430 field goal percentage, second-best in the NBA.

"Each year I think he's gotten better and better," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said in April when Noah won Defensive Player of the Year. "And I think that's a testament to his will and determination. And he's improved in many different areas -- everyone talks about the passing and his defense but offensively his scoring, his leadership, his professionalism (have grown)."

The All-NBA second team consists of guards Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and center Dwight Howard of the Rockets.

Guards Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns, forwards Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Trail Blazers and Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Hornets make up the third team.

Noah's time to shine without Nene

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
1:57
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Nene, Joakim NoahAP Photo/Alex BrandonWizards big man Nene was a handful for Joakim Noah at both ends in the first three games.

WASHINGTON -- Tom Thibodeau and his Chicago Bulls players didn't want to speculate whether Washington Wizards big man Nene would be suspended for Sunday's Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series after head-butting Jimmy Butler late in Friday's Game 3. But now that the penalty has been doled out, it figures to be the single biggest break of the series for the Bulls.

Nene's presence in the Wizards' lineup can't be overstated.

He has affected this series in a lot of different areas -- but the biggest issue for the Bulls has been how his length has disrupted Thibodeau's offense. Specifically, how Nene's size and activity has limited what Joakim Noah has been able to do at times on the high post.

Without Nene in the fold, the Bulls, trailing the series 2-1, should look a lot more like the team they were during the final three months of the regular season, particularly on offense. Noah should be able to create more opportunities for his teammates and get them into rhythm early, since some of his passing lanes are figure to be open again.

"They're pressuring me a lot, a lot more than usual," Noah said Saturday, before Nene's suspension became official. "I have to do a better job of making sure I don't turn the ball over. They've been doing a good job with that, and I think it's been giving them a lot of easy points in transition and things like that, so I definitely have to do a better job of not turning the ball over."

The Bulls destroyed the Wizards in an April 5 meeting when Nene sat out because of a knee injury. Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Carlos Boozer chipped in with 16 points and four rebounds. The difference was that the paint, and the high post for Noah, was open.

[+] EnlargeNene, Carlos Boozer
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCarlos Boozer should also benefit Sunday from the suspension of Washington roadblock Nene.
Noah, the freshly minted defensive player of the year, also struggled containing Nene in the first two games of these playoffs on the defensive end. Without Nene in the fold Sunday, it's a matchup that both Noah and Boozer must use to their advantage.

"The game tells you what shots are going to be there," Thibodeau said. "If [Noah's] shots aren't there -- Joakim helps us in a ton of ways. His screening, I thought, was terrific [Friday], and his defense was very good. So he doesn't have to shoot and score for him to play well."

Maybe not, but Noah has not put up the massive numbers in this series that have defined his season. He has been frustrated by the pressure that Nene and others have brought to bear. Now that that pressure will be off, it's time for him to lead the way as he has all year for the Bulls.

Noah must set the tone on both ends that his teammates follow. He started setting that tone Saturday when asked if he was bothered by the notion that the Bulls are just trying to "rough up" the series and make it more physical because they don't have as much talent.

"It's crazy to me how quick people are just passing judgement and say, 'Oh, this is who they are,'" Noah said. "Every game is different, every situation is different. They have a lot of physical players, and we try to play a physical game and try to win the game. But every situation is different. At the end of the day, it's the way the referees see it, so their perspective is what matters most. The only thing we can do is control what we can control -- and that's do our best."

Without Nene on the floor, Noah's best should be enough to carry the Bulls on Sunday and tie the series up. The emotional center hasn't faced many opportunities like this in his career to date -- games in which he is being counted on to provide even more of a scoring punch given the circumstances. But he has proved throughout his career that he has the ability to rise to the occasion in the biggest of games, as he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season against the Brooklyn Nets.

For Noah to take the next step in his evolution as an offensive leader, he must take full advantage of the fact that the human roadblock he has faced over the past week is out of the picture. The pressure will be on Noah to produce -- and it's pressure he'll welcome with open arms, just as he does most other things in his life.

"These games are really coming down to nothing at all," he said. "Just attention to detail. We're disappointed about losing the first two at home, especially having leads in the fourth quarter. But Jimmy Butler, [Mike] Dunleavy, a lot of guys stepped up [Friday] in a real crucial moment. And we're just happy we're in this position right now -- and with our backs against the rope -- to have an opportunity to tie this thing is huge."

OT: Noah's father beams with pride

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. -- Yannick Noah did what a lot of dads do while trying to make their basketball-loving sons happy during their formative years -- he bought plenty of basketball cards and memorabilia. Yannick recalled this memory Monday night after watching his son, Joakim Noah, receive the 2013-2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

"I used to go out and try to get some cards signed -- it cost me a fortune -- of these guys," Yannick said. "[Joakim] used to collect these things. I had to get him autographs and cards, he was collecting these cards. What do you do with these cards? All these cards. He knew all the players of all the teams. Sixth man of every team, seventh man. He knew the game and loved the game. The shirts and the magazines and the tapes back in the day, the VHS tapes."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
AP Photo/Matt Marton"As a father, I'm happy," proud papa Yannick Noah said of son Joakim winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. "I'm happy because he's living his dream."
Yannick, a former French Open tennis champion and European pop star, was having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that his son, the Chicago Bulls' star center, is now one of the great players in the game of basketball.

"So he had all this and when I hear names mentioned, I'm actually shocked," Yannick continued. "Because these other guys, I would say maybe a little younger, but my generation, I used to love watching on TV and telling him about. It's amazing. As a father, I'm happy. I'm happy because he's living his dream. He dreamt about this. I don't think he believed it would happen ... but I know he was pushing. When I hear his name mentioned in the same sentence with all these players I just think this is a joke somehow."

It's no joke. Joakim noted during his acceptance speech that he got his work ethic from his father. The two thrive off emotion in their play, and they speak with passion on various topics as well. For Yannick, the entire experience of Monday's award ceremony was a joyous one.

"I don't think you get tired of it," Yannick said of being a proud parent. "The thing is, when things like this happen I just don't believe it's true. It was a long road. It's been a lot of years, a lot of work, a lot of pain, a lot of practice, a lot of sweat, a lot of worries."

Monday was particularly emotional after the rough week his son has had to endure. Joakim's mentor, Tyrone Green, passed away last week, and he dedicated his award to him.

"Very tough year, very tough week," Yannick continued. "And [Joakim's] still standing. And I'm really proud of him because he's still standing."

What's next: The Bulls have a shootaround Tuesday morning in advance of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Wizards.

The last word: Tom Thibodeau on Noah: "When I look at him now, we've had some interesting conversations over time, but at the end of the day I know how badly he wants to win. He's done a good job and he'll continue to do a good job for us."

Thibs, Noah have special bond with Bulls

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
7:30
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. -- Yannick Noah sat proudly in the front row as his son, Joakim, accepted the 2013-2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award Monday night. The elder Noah, and other assorted family and friends, beamed with pride as the emotional Chicago Bulls center received one of the biggest awards in basketball.

They weren't the only ones smiling big.

Another man sat proudly on the stage, immediately to Noah's right, and watched the unfolding proceedings with pride of his own. That would be Tom Thibodeau -- the usually unflappable Bulls coach. He wore the look of a proud papa as Noah earned some hard-earned recognition for his rugged play.

"Thibs," Joakim Noah said, in the middle of his acceptance speech, "we've definitely had our hard times, our ups and downs, but without your system this wouldn't be possible."

Having been in the league for more than two decades and understanding how much goes into winning basketball games, Thibodeau knows full well that he wouldn't be considered one of the best coaches in the league without Noah's help and support. The pair has formed an unlikely duo that has set the course for the Bulls' franchise moving forward. While the pair does not appear to have much in common on the surface, the two share a burning desire to win. That desire makes them both similar -- and unique.

"I think he understands where I'm coming from. I understand where he's coming from," Thibodeau said after the ceremony. "He's a character, but he's enjoyable to coach because you know how important winning is to him. And you know how important work is to him. And I think he touched on it with his dad, he watched his father. I think a big part of his athleticism is the fact he did jump rope, and he did run, and his stamina, and all those things. So when we got him, that part was in him."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
AP Photo/Matt MartonCenter Joakim Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau each said leaning on the other was crucial to the Bulls' success this season.
It was inside of him -- but Thibodeau is the man who brought it all out of him. Thibodeau is the one who pushed Noah to be even better each and every day. It hasn't been an easy process -- both men admit to having some heated conversations, but in the end, the respect they have for one another topples any feelings of frustration that might linger at various points in a season.

"Defense helps win and winning is definitely the most important thing," Joakim said. "I remember one day we were working out at the Berto Center and Thibs was putting me through a real grueling workout and I told him, 'You know, Thibs? If we weren't winning games I would really, really hate you.' And he said, 'Trust me, Jo. I feel the same way about you.'"

Deep down, Thibodeau knows the Bulls wouldn't have turned around their season had it not been for Noah's leadership on and off the floor after Derrick Rose suffered another knee injury and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland. That's why the pair sat down and talked after the Deng deal about how they wanted to finish the season.

"We had some conversations about where we were and what we were expecting," Thibodeau said. "And the thing that I admire about Jo is he's not the type of guy that will allow things to fall apart. And so his will and determination helped us overcome the circumstances that we were in. I had the belief in him that he could do more. He had the belief in himself that he could do more. And he knew if we were going to get it done that that was what was going to have to happen."

It's not an accident that Noah has enjoyed the best season of his professional basketball career after those conversations with Thibodeau. Since the first of the year, he has been as focused and locked in as ever.

"I think he grew as did Taj [Gibson]," Thibodeau said. "And of course the acquisition of D.J. [Augustin] was huge for us. But I think the thing about Jo is when you look back and you see how much he's grown throughout his career. Each and every year he's gotten better. And I know his first few years in the league, I was on the opposing bench so I had an opportunity to get that perspective. But once I got around him and saw the way he worked and his determination I knew he would continue to get better. He's put a tremendous amount of work into his offense, into becoming a complete player, and I think that's what we're seeing now."

But Thibodeau knows there is more. Like Noah, he knows that he still has much more to give. The coach and player know they have championships to win together. Each man has earned individual accolades in recent years, but both men want the bigger prize. Thibodeau knows it's his job to continue pushing Noah to another level. Noah knows it's his job to allow the veteran coach to lead him there.

"Sometimes when you're watching his improvement it seems small and incremental," Thibodeau said. "But then all of a sudden you look back -- I know when I look back over the four years and I see where he is today, it's a quantum leap. He's one of the best players in the league now, he's a two-time All-Star, and now he's a Defensive Player of the Year as well -- and I think he'll still get better. So we're pleased for him, but probably the best thing about it I think -- he's being recognized for his contributions to winning."

Thibs plays with fire, Bulls still good

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:50
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Thibodeau had a simple message for his team before it played in Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

"Before the game, he was like, 'Be prepared to win,'" Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau didn't let up on the intensity in the Bulls' regular-season finale, but that's no surprise.
Thibodeau didn't care about the fact it was the 82nd game of the regular season. He didn't care that the Bulls would be best served to land in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings and would avoid a possible second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. He didn't care that Butler had piled up plenty of minutes over the course of a long NBA season -- Thibodeau did not want to change the way he prepared his team to play at all.

"He told that to everybody," Butler said of the message. "He played guys -- he wanted to win the game. All those minutes, I think it was worth it. But, obviously, we didn't pull it out. We didn't win."

Butler sat in front of his locker stall with the same tired look on his face he usually has after games as he said this. The Bulls didn't beat the Bobcats, but Thibodeau's message was clear: The Bulls play to win every game. It is a belief that has defined him in his career and one he's not going to turn his back on now. The veteran coach knows he'll be criticized for his decisions, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care what fans think, he doesn't care what the media thinks, he doesn't care what some people in the organization think -- all Thibodeau cares about is doing what he thinks is best for his team at that given moment.

"I just didn't think we needed to do that," Thibodeau said when asked why he chose not to rest guys. "I think D.J. [Augustin] missed a game, so I think it was important for him to get minutes. Once you start resting guys, sometimes they get out of rhythm, and for us right now, I think our team is well rested. We've been concerned with rest for a while, and we've given our guys a lot of days off. So from the rest standpoint, I think we're in great shape. You want the rhythm, you want to be playing well, you got to be sharp."

(Read full post)

OT: Noah very proud of his 'Gator boys'

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
9:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- Joakim Noah beamed like a proud parent as the topic of his beloved Florida Gators came up Sunday morning. That's because his team was back where he always believed it belonged: The Final Four.

After knocking off Dayton on Saturday night, the Gators qualified for their first Final Four since Noah left Gainesville in 2007 after winning back-to-back national titles.

"I'm very happy," Noah said. "I'm very proud to be a Gator boy. And to see how much those kids went through, losing in the Elite 8 three years in a row and finally getting to the Final Four, it's a testament to them and their coaches."

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Like most players in the league, Noah has kept close ties to his alma mater. Noah has taken a special interest in Florida's program after leaving and makes it a point to work out in Gainesville when he can. He's hopeful his team can make it all the way to the top next Monday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the site of this year's Final Four.

"There's one more weekend," he said. "Just got to stay hungry and stay in the moment, not get caught up in all the [hoopla]. We didn't win it, yet, so we're excited to be there. But there's more work to be done."

What's next for the Bulls: Chicago plays the Boston Celtics again on Monday night at the United Center.

Stat of the day: According to Bulls radio statistician Jeff Mangurten, the Bulls are now 15-1 in their past 16 games following a defeat, dating back to Christmas.

The last word: Noah, on whether University of Florida coach Billy Donovan is the best coach in college basketball.

"By far. To me. I've only had one. But to this day I still live my life by a lot of the lessons that he taught me. He's always told me to live in the moment, and I still try to live my life by that code every day."

D.J. Augustin, Joakim Noah shine again

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
10:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- Joakim Noah has said several times already that D.J. Augustin's presence has saved the Chicago Bulls' season.

Noah also said he doesn't believe he would have made the All-Star team for the second consecutive season had it not been for the fact Augustin was claimed off waivers in December from the Toronto Raptors ... and has played All-Star caliber offensive basketball ever since.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
AP Photo/Michael DwyerEven his Bulls teammates and coaches have been pleasantly surprised at how effective D.J. Augustin has been at the point since being claimed off waivers in December.
That's why it should come as no surprise that Noah, the emotional leader of a reborn Bulls team, happily gave Augustin a hard time after the veteran point guard scored a career-high 33 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, during the Bulls 107-102 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

"He's been great," Noah said of Augustin. "I'm really happy that he's part of this team. As soon as he came in he fit in right away. He's a laid-back guy, quiet guy, but he's a hell of a competitor. Plays well in the big moment. We wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for him."

It's becoming a common occurrence for Bulls' players and coaches to sing Augustin's praises after games.

While the rest of the league seems to have forgotten how solid Augustin could be offensively, he never wavered in feeling he could still be a high-level player. His confidence was shaken when he came to Chicago, but it wasn't broken.

"I believe in myself, man," Augustin said. "I'm a basketball player. I always thought of myself as a pretty good basketball player. I think everybody on this level is pretty good or you wouldn't be in the NBA. Just having confidence in myself, my teammates giving me confidence, and just feeling comfortable."

Augustin and Noah have formed an unlikely dynamic duo for the Bulls in the midst of what was thought to be a lost season when Derrick Rose went down with another season-ending injury and Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Augustin continues to hit big shots, and Noah continues to make plays all over the floor.

It's not a surprise that head coach Tom Thibodeau praised those two first after another hard-fought win. In their own way, both men have become closers on a team that didn’t appear to have any when Rose went out in November.

"He's done it all year," Thibodeau said of Augustin. "He's a big fourth-quarter scorer. Big shot after big shot. I thought Jo made a lot of good plays. We had a lot of guys step up. We didn't play our best, we found a way to win. So we'll take it."

That's the beauty of Sunday's win for the Bulls: Thibodeau and his players know they could play much better, yet they still found a way to beat the beleaguered Celtics.

The difference, as it has been throughout the last three months, is that Thibodeau has found a rhythm within the closing lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Augustin and Noah. The coach trusts those five to lock down games for him, and he has gone to them repeatedly down the stretch in games.

Augustin and Noah continue to lead the way, but that group has created the type of mentality within itself that teams are having trouble beating.

"When you play to each other's strengths, good things are going to happen," Thibodeau said. "Taj has also been very efficient in the fourth quarter. So D.J. is probably our most efficient, and then Taj is probably is the second most efficient. Then Jo is the playmaker.

"Then the other guys have to do their job. Kirk is great. It gives us the option, we can run the offense through D.J. or run it through Kirk, and we can put D.J. in different situations.

"And then Jimmy's the wild card. Jimmy does everything. You don't want to take Jimmy off the floor. He's the catalyst, he guards everybody, moves extremely well without the ball. You leave him open, he's going to make you pay. He plays with a lot of toughness on every play, and we need that."

If the Bulls are going to rack up wins in the playoffs, they're going to need that group to continue to set the tone -- with Augustin at the front of the offensive charge. His teammates and coaches knew he could be good, but even they seem a little surprised at just how great he has been in spots this season.

"We had played him early in his career and he had played pretty well against us," Noah said. "But I never knew he would be this effective but ... I think nobody did. Otherwise I think he'd be playing somewhere [else].

"I'm just happy he's with the Bulls. I think he found a home here, and I hope he can stay for a long time."

Bulls prepared to face Aldridge, Blazers

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
12:38
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The safe assumption was power forward LaMarcus Aldridge's return would make the Portland Trail Blazers a more dangerous team again.

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was able to confirm that after watching Aldridge score 26 points and grab 16 rebounds in a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday after he missed seven games with a lower back contusion. The Trail Blazers were 3-4 in Aldridge’s absence.

The Bulls get Aldridge and the Trail Blazers on Friday.

“Aldridge played last night, so they’re back to how they normally play,” Thibodeau said after his team’s shootaround at the United Center on Friday. “They’re a very hard team to guard. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons. They play together. They share the ball. They can really shoot. You have to challenge shots and finish your defense.

“[Aldridge] looked great. His skill set is so unique. He’s a hard guy because of where he catches the ball and his release is so high. Then you throw [Damian] Lillard and Mo Williams out there and Wes Matthews and [Nicolas] Batum and [Robin] Lopez is great at doing his job. That was a huge pickup for them. [Thomas] Robinson really runs the floor. They have a lot of weapons.”

The responsibility of guarding Aldridge will likely fall mostly on Bulls center Joakim Noah on Friday. The Bulls limited Aldridge to 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting and six rebounds when the teams last met on Nov. 22. The Trail Blazers won that game 98-95 in Portland.

“He’s a great player,” Noah said of Aldridge. “He definitely changes everything when he’s on the court for them. Just his ability to shoot the ball, score in the paint. He’s probably the best offensive big in the league, so he presents a lot of challenges. … Yeah, it’s definitely going to take a team effort, and we’ve got to do our best to try and slow him down.”

The Bulls can clinch a playoff spot with a win or a New York Knicks’ loss on Friday. The Knicks are on the road against the Phoenix Suns.

The Bulls haven’t played since defeating the Indiana Pacers on Monday. Thibodeau thought the Bulls were able to utilize the three-day span between games.

“You have to maximize the time you do have,” Thibodeau said. “We had a stretch where we had a lot of games. I believe it was 18 in 31 days. Then you get a break and it gives you a chance to practice and clean things up. Hopefully, we took advantage of that time where we got quality practices in and clean some areas up that we needed to work on.”

Soaring Noah reluctant to accept praise

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
11:18
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The “M-V-P” chants directed at the Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah grew louder as a tight battle with the Sacramento Kings moved on Saturday night, reaching a crescendo with five minutes remaining when the center stole the ball and went the length of the court to make a basket while being fouled.

Noah will have a tough time grabbing the league’s top-player award away from guys such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but in this slice of the Midwest, he is as valuable as they come for a team making serious noise despite the losses of Derrick Rose (knee injury) and Luol Deng (trade).

Saturday was just another example of his value, as the big man scored 23 points to go with 11 rebounds -- his 34th double-double of the season -- in a 94-87 victory over Sacramento.

Noah has stepped up to cover the massive void left by a pair of All-Stars and continues to push this Bulls team into what had seemed so improbable not that long ago: Home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeNoah
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsEven after another stellar night, and another victory, Joakim Noah swatted away the sentiment behind fans' chants of "M-V-P."
Yet it’s not quite a sense of accomplishment that Noah is getting when he hears fans recognize his determined play.

“I don’t like them,” Noah said of the MVP chants. “I don’t like it but that’s not what is important to me. It’s just all about this team right now. I think we’ve been through so much. It’s not about individual accolades, it’s about us and everything we’ve gone through. That’s what this season is about to me.”

Like it or not, it’s what happens when fans can see something special. Superstar status was a bit of a reach when Noah came into the league as a high-energy player willing to do all the dirty work, but he has catapulted his unique skill set into the conversation regarding the top players in the game.

In addition to his points and rebounds against the Kings, Noah recorded eight assists and five blocks, making him just one of three players this season to have turned in at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a single game. The twist is that Noah is the only player in the NBA to have done it twice, after also hitting those marks against the Miami Heat on March 9.

“The first thing is that [Noah’s] game is through the roof right now, his confidence is through the roof,” said teammate Taj Gibson, who also was key with 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench. “The NBA is all about confidence, and when you work on your game and get that confidence going, you’re unstoppable. I feel that he’s taking it to the next level, head up with confidence.”

Gibson also lauded Noah’s leadership skills, but like Noah's reticence with embracing the MVP chants, being the Bulls' primary leader isn’t a title Noah is comfortable carrying alone.

“I think that a lot of guys need to step up in order for us to do something special, and I think a lot of guys are stepping up,” Noah said. “I just like our demeanor out there, especially at the end of the game. Every time you step on the court you learn something about our team, and today I think the best part about it was just our composure down the stretch.”

Against a Kings team that entered 19 games under .500, the Bulls struggled with the size and strength of their opponent. The Kings owned the rebounding battle, finishing with a 55-40 advantage, and in two games this season the Kings have outrebounded the Bulls 108-70.

But Noah was up for the challenge inside, going 7-of-8 from the field and 3-of-3 from the free throw line in the first half, when he was primarily matched up against the imposing 6-foot-11, 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins. His strong fourth quarter ended a full night's work.

After guarding the Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard and Cousins in back-to-back games, Noah looked spent, but the two victories seemed to make it all worthwhile.

“There are definitely easier things in life,” Noah said. “I’m just happy coming out with two big wins for us. We know Sacramento is a team that gives us fits, but we found a way tonight and that’s big.”

Thibs enjoys Noah's ASG performance

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
11:17
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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TORONTO -- As Tom Thibodeau watched the All-Star Game on Sunday night, he started to feel a little trepidation for his center, Joakim Noah. The game wasn't unfolding in a way in which Noah could showcase his skills and Thibodeau knew it.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Noah was glad to be playing in the final minutes of Sunday's All-Star Game, helping the East to a victory.
"The second quarter, I was a little nervous watching him," Thibodeau admitted after Tuesday's practice. "Because all I saw him do was take the ball out of the net. And I said, 'Please, just get a bucket and an assist and a rebound. And then get out.' But I thought he was great. The fourth quarter, I think it was a lot of fun for him. I think he's gotten real comfortable. I think any time you can have that experience it's a big plus. And I think he continues to learn and grow from those situations. But I thought he played really, really well in the fourth quarter. When the game got serious it was good."

Noah played a bulk of the fourth-quarter minutes in the East's victory over the West, a fact that he was very proud of because of the defensive intensity he brought to the table.

"It felt good," he said. "It felt good to win and I'm happy and I feel good that I was in the game. I wanted to be in the game and it's just a good feeling to be able to play at the end."

So what's it like trying to play defense in the All-Star game?

Noah had to smile a little bit as he tried to answer the question.

"It's a lot easier when you have your rotations in place," he said. "We work on our rotations every day in practice -- so it's tough."

(Read full post)

Opening Tip: Butler's shooting woes continue

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
11:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler sat quietly in the chair in front of his locker stall late Friday night. It wasn't tough to figure what was weighing so heavily on his mind. Over his last six games, he is just 25-for-83 from the field -- including a 3-for-15 clip in Friday's 112-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. On the season, Butler is shooting 37.1 percent from the field. He put in a lot of work to get his shot on track over the summer, but that hard work hasn't paid off to this point.

"I'm playing terrible," Butler said. "I'm not making no shots. I'm not helping on offense. I got to fix it. I don't know what it is, but I got to figure it out on my own."

Butler is taking his recent struggles hard. After a breakout playoff run last spring, he hasn't taken the step in his game that so many expected this season.

"I'm getting great looks," he said. "They're just not falling for me. I don't know. It's got to be me, nothing else. The rims are the same, the balls are the same, so it's all on me to correct it."

Butler's teammates and coaches are hoping he breaks out of his slump soon.

"He just has to keep grinding away," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think that Jimmy will be fine. I think that he helps this team in a lot of other ways. He can help this team with his defense, his running the floor, his tenacity, his will. The thing about his offense is he's sort of at where [Joakim Noah] was earlier in the year. It's hard to be in rhythm when he's had the injuries that he's had. He's missed a lot of time, he's playing catchup, he'll get there. He's got to keep going. Jimmy's a good player."

Rivers a big fan of Noah's: As the Clippers walked into the United Center for their shootaround Friday morning, coach Doc Rivers took some time out to say hello to Noah. It's clear the veteran coach has a lot of respect for the way Noah plays.

"Noah, that's a guy when you watch him play, he's a joy to watch because he plays with the joy that you would wish every player, every kid, played with," Rivers said. "Then when you factor him and Thibs together I think that makes a dynamic duo as far as intensity. And to me everyone else has to follow suit on that team and they do."

The last word: Thibodeau on Rivers: "Doc's been around and he has great perspective on things because he can look at it from the point of view of an ex-player, he can look at it from the point of view of a coach, and now as an executive. That's one of the things that we talked about, now that he's an executive, I think that overrides whoever is supposed to pay for dinner. That expense account is a little bigger now for him."

Thibodeau trumps Deng on reunion night

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
11:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- After all the pregame hugs and handshakes were over and the well-wishes and deserved praise for Luol Deng ceased, Tom Thibodeau offered up another clinic as to why the Chicago Bulls will always be all right no matter which players he has on his roster.

Wednesday's win over Deng and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls' ninth in their past 11 games, was another reminder as to why Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league.

The Bulls still miss Deng's presence on and off the floor and will surely miss him down the stretch of the 82-game season. But the void he left after being dealt to Cleveland earlier this month isn't nearly as big as it could have been, thanks in large part to Thibodeau.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Mark DuncanTom Thibodeau and the Bulls allowed Luol Deng but two makes on 11 attempts in their first meeting since his trade to the Cavaliers.
The coach was the one who devised the game plan that made Deng basically irrelevant on Wednesday, allowing him just two makes on 11 attempts. He's the one who made the adjustments that slowed down Kyrie Irving to the tune of just eight second-half points after scoring 18 in the first half.

Most of all, Thibodeau is the man who got players such as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to believe in the fact they could still win games after Deng left. Thibodeau made his leaders believe the season wasn't over when many others had given up hope.

"There's a resolve to our team," Thibodeau said. "There's a great fighting spirit, and there's a great will. I think if you have those things, you have a chance."

If you have a great scheme, the chances to win are even greater. Having been around Deng for so many years, Thibodeau and his players knew exactly what they wanted to do when they saw their former teammate on the floor.

"We tried to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Put a lot of pressure on him. We know both their bigs are rolling to the basket, so we were able to be more aggressive on Lu and put more pressure on him."

Bulls forward Gibson, who tied a career high with 26 points, knew what Deng's plan was and tried to keep him out of his comfort zone when he saw him on the floor.

"At times we just had to switch different guys on him," Gibson said. "At one point, he was getting a lot of foul calls, especially offensively. He got himself going at the foul line. I know Lu, too. That’s how he gets himself going. If he can’t hit a shot early, he attacks the rim and looks to get fouls. We looked to take that away from him. No long-range 3s; we were on his 3-point game. We just tried to make him frustrated. Because once he gets in his rhythm, it’s really tough to slow him down. We did a good job. D.J. [Augustin] even chipped in and guarded him some. It was a team effort."

For his part, Deng admitted what his former teammates knew going in: The entire experience was weird. Seeing Deng in a Cavs jersey, after spending nine years in Bulls jersey, was a little bizarre.

"It was strange," Deng said. "But it's the Cavs versus the Bulls. It's not so much about me. We could have played better."

This game was about Deng, though. His old teammates knew it, and his old coach definitely knew it. In order to win, the Bulls had to shut down Deng -- and that's exactly what they did.

"It felt weird because it was tension even before the game," Gibson said. "We wasn’t talking or nothing. It was exactly like how Thibs said: 'We love him but we’re going to go knock him on his butt when he tries to score. After the game, we can be friends.'

"But I felt like everybody stepped in and did a good job guarding him, taking him out of the game early, making it tough on him. And that was big because he’s been playing very well lately."

After it was over, the All-Star forward said he didn't believe he was trying to force looks against his old team.

"If I was forcing things, I would've shot 30 shots," Deng said. "I really try to play the game within myself. [Chicago] played good [defense] and I just missed shots. I'm not happy with my performance, but that's a good defensive team."

Deng knows better than anyone the Bulls are a good defensive team because of the effort their players show on a nightly basis, but mostly because of Thibodeau's will. He has the ability to get the most out of his team each and every night, and he proved again on Wednesday against one of his favorite former players.

"We're just going out there believing," Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said. "Whoever we have playing that night, we believe we can win. And that's the way we're playing, with that edge. And we're just going after every team we're playing against."

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:24
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 98-87 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

How it happened: Taj Gibson tied a career high with 26 points to lead the Bulls over former teammate Luol Deng and the Cavs. D.J. Augustin had another solid game, scoring 27 points, while Joakim Noah chipped in with nine points, 18 rebounds and six assists as Tom Thibodeau's team ramped up its defense in the second half. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 20 points, but he scored just two in the second half.

What it means: The Bulls still miss Deng, but they haven't missed him nearly as much as many fans thought because they have players such as Gibson and Noah who still play hard and produce. Most importantly, they still have Thibodeau. He's the one who devised the plan that shut down Deng all night and that made the adjustments to limit Irving in the final 24 minutes. No matter who is hurt (Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich didn't play) or which players may end up also getting dealt, the Bulls will continue to win games because of Thibodeau and his ability to get the most out of his players night to night.

Stat of the night: The Bulls obviously made it a point to contain Deng. He scored 11 points but was just 2-for-11 from the field and didn't have a major impact on the game.

Hits: Mike Dunleavy had 22 points off the bench, going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Misses: Jimmy Butler's shooting woes continue. He was just 4-for-12 from the field, including 1-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.

What's next: The Bulls take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night in Chicago.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5