Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

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

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
11:02
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 19
11:28
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 15
6:29
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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.

Noah
"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
Dec 11
2:35
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 10
12:33
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 6
12:26
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 3
11:53
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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
Dec 3
10:54
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
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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."

Sights and sounds of Bulls' 2014 Circus Trip

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
7:51
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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Derrick RoseAP Photo/Rick BowmerBefore we officially say goodbye to the Circus Trip, we look back at some of the best moments.
After a 15-day, seven-city road trip that led the Chicago Bulls from coast to coast, there were bound to be a few entertaining stories. This year's "Circus Trip" -- which, according to ESPN Stats and Information and a little help from Google Maps, was the longest of the Tom Thibodeau era and racked up 4,426 miles -- was a productive one for the Bulls. Nick Friedell, who was there every step of the way, shares some of those moments in this diary.


Nov. 17: 11:05 a.m. PT, UCLA Student Activities Center, Los Angeles

Derrick Rose almost always commands the media’s attention after practice, but that didn't happen this day. A few reporters stood around Rose to get the latest update on his injured left hamstring, which would keep him out of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers later that night, but it was former veteran power forward Pau Gasol who drew the biggest crowd. Gasol, who spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, made his first appearance back in his old professional hometown since he signed with the Chicago Bulls over the summer.

Gasol was asked how difficult it was to leave Los Angeles for Chicago. He was ready with a response before the question was even finished.

"Very, it was very difficult," he said. "It was very difficult. As much as I went through what I went through here the last couple of years, it kind of wore me out. It drained me in different ways. It was still difficult to make that call and leave this city, this team."

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellStaples Center attendees watched the "Hunger Games" team work the red carpet across the street.

Nov. 17: 5:12 p.m. PT, Staples Center, L.A.

As usual, Jimmy Butler was one of the first people on the floor to warm up before the Bulls took on the Clippers. Meanwhile, across the street from the arena, Jennifer Lawrence was about to walk down the red carpet in advance of the premiere of the latest “Hunger Games” installment.

The Bulls were without Rose (left hamstring) and Gasol, whose left calf injury felt worse after shootaround, but Butler wasn't fazed. He beat assistant coach Adrian Griffin in a quick jump-shot contest and then turned into a coach himself while sitting on the bench a few minutes later and watching rookie Cameron Bairstow take shots near the 3-point line.

"That's a 2!" Butler shouted after Bairstow took a couple jumpers with his foot on the 3-point line. Bairstow collected himself, moved his foot a couple inches back and started firing again.

"There you go," Butler said.

Nov. 17: 10:28 p.m. PT, Staples Center, L.A.

The visitor's locker room was excited. The Bulls had just surprised the Clippers and opened this 15-day road swing with a win. Joakim Noah could barely contain his joy. He wrote a number on the dry erase board with a message, wondering (in so many words) which of his teammates were ready to party.

"It's very important," said Butler, who finished with 22 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. "Start of this road trip. It's a big win for us. It just shows how deep we are and how confident everybody is in everybody else. I think it's huge, and we're going to celebrate, as Jo is probably telling y'all over there."

Nov. 19: 10:02 a.m. PT, Clippers' practice facility, Playa Vista, California

Rookie Doug McDermott couldn't help but smile as he discussed the commotion that had sprung up around the Internet about the pictures of him with Kid Ink and Clippers stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

"Everyone asked me if I photobombed Kid Ink," McDermott said as head trainer Jeff Tanaka got him taped up and ready for practice on a training table. "I'm like, 'No, man. That had nothing to do with me.'"

Thibodeau was just hopeful McDermott and fellow rookie Nikola Mirotic could start producing more on the floor. With Gasol out of the lineup, Mirotic scored 12 points in the win over the Clippers, but he also racked up five fouls in 18 minutes, much to Thibodeau's chagrin. McDermott did not score in 10 minutes and was struggling to find consistency with his shot.

"The thing with Niko -- he's playing behind three really good players," Thibodeau said in reference to Gasol, Noah and Taj Gibson. "Right now, they're a lot better than he is. But I'm very pleased with both of those guys. They just got to keep working. When they get in there, get the job done. I like them a lot, and I think they're only going to get better and better as time goes on."

BullsCourtesy Nick FriedellThe view of Manhattan Beach, near the Clippers' Playa Vista, Calif., practice facility, isn't too bad.

Nov. 20: 10:22 p.m. PT, Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, California

Bulls GM Gar Forman had been with the team since the start of the trip, but he left after the game to go scouting for a few days. Before he left, he wanted to make sure his players were intact.

The Bulls, who lost to the Sacramento Kings this night, were already without Rose and Gasol, and now it appeared they would miss veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for a while. Hinrich left the game after taking a charge from Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins and was being checked out. Forman stood patiently in the back of the arena while waiting for news.

As Hinrich gingerly walked out of the checkup, he bumped into former teammate Brad Miller, who was sitting courtside watching all the action. The Bulls said Hinrich's X-rays were negative, but he had a chest contusion.

For the third straight year, the Bulls lost their cool in Sacramento. A year after getting ejected for screaming at officials, Noah got a technical again and almost got tossed. He admitted later, in the cramped locker room, that he he had been reminding himself on the floor to just breathe.

"Jo's an emotional guy," Thibodeau said. "You don't want to take that away from him. You're on the road -- you're not going to get calls. It is physical out there. It's just the way it is. There was some frustration to deal with, but we've still got to find a way to pull that out in the end.

Nov. 21: 9:27 p.m. PT, Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

The third quarter was about to come to a close against the Portland Trail Blazers, but Taj Gibson's night was already over. Almost a year to the day after Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in the same building, Gibson slowly crutched his way back to the Bulls' locker room with assistant athletic trainer Armando Rivas after re-injuring his left ankle.

Thibodeau didn't want to hear about the bad mojo in the building after the Bulls dropped their second straight, but his players believed, understandably, that Portland had turned into a house of horrors for them. One player muttered "F--- this place" as he peeled off his uniform. Gibson hobbled back into the locker room on crutches and was in a walking boot. He said one of the first people he spoke to in the locker room was Rose, who urged him to be patient.

Gibson was understandably frustrated.

"I didn't even want to wear crutches," he said. "I didn't want to wear a boot, and it's tough right now. I got to wear a boot, and I got to wear crutches -- doctor's orders. Just got to get this thing calmed down."

Nov. 23: 11:07 a.m. PT, Trail Blazers' practice facility, Tualatin, Oregon

Gibson had been sent back to Chicago to be checked by team physician Dr. Brian Cole. Rose and Gasol lingered in the training room of the Blazers' facility to get some last-minute instructions. Rose spoke to Bulls' director of sports performance, Jen Swanson, before heading toward the floor. The Bulls had a week left to go, but Gasol remained upbeat that if the starting five could play together more, they would be fine.

"I think injuries are just part of the game," he said. "There's certain teams that suffered maybe a little more, but I think it comes and goes. I don't think nobody's frustrated at this point. But we are facing some adversity as far as guys not being able to go. But it's hard to get the full roster healthy at the same time. Once we get it, it will be great ... we just got to play through it."

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellThe marquee previewed the point guard matchup that awaited the Bulls in Game 4 of their road swing.

Nov. 24: 9:42 p.m. MT, Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City

Mike Dunleavy only had two points on this night, but his two might have been the most important of the game. With about 25 seconds left in regulation and the Bulls down by one, Butler raced down the floor to try to lay in the ball. The problem for Butler was Jazz swingman Alec Burks was behind him and blocked the attempt. Dunleavy, who had been following the play down the floor, picked the ball up and dropped it in the basket to give the Bulls a lead they would not relinquish.

After the game, the veteran shooter joked with reporters about interviewing him about his game-winner. There was a sense of relief in the air for the Bulls, who did not want to head to Denver, a place where they had lost seven straight, on a three-game losing streak. When asked after the game about the Bulls' struggles in Denver, Thibodeau wanted no part of it.

"Were you there for all seven of them?" he said.

"Five," he's told.

"OK, so you know there were probably some circumstances involved if you looked closely," he said. "So past history has nothing to do with it. I know with this group, since I've been here, we've always found a way to scratch games out. That's all we're thinking about. We're going to go in there, get ready to play, and we know how good they are. We're going to have to be ready. It's not, 'What happened 100 years ago.' We know what we got to do."

Nov. 25: 8:18 p.m. MT, Pepsi Center, Denver

This halftime was an interesting one for the Bulls. Adrian Griffin raided the candy container that the training staff carries during games before finding a piece of gum. Rose, who looked disengaged in just 10 minutes of play in the first half, stayed back in the locker room. Hinrich started with a group that was also without Noah, who was battling ongoing issues with his knee and whose vision was blurred some after being poked in the eye against the Jazz.

The Bulls were on the way to their eighth loss in a row in Denver, and the questions surrounding Rose's long-term health were growing louder than ever, but the Bulls' locker room remained calm amidst their third loss in four games. Hinrich sat on one side wrapped up like a mummy. He was giving Butler, who just tied his career high with 32 points, a hard time for speaking in the third person.

Thibodeau called Butler a “star” after the game, but Butler disagreed.

"I'm not a star," Butler said. "I'm a good role player on a really, really good team -- a really, really deep team. I like role players. 'Star' has never been next to Jimmy Butler's name. It never will be. I'll always be just an under-the-radar dog."

It's hard to be modest after sinking 18-of-20 free throw attempts, but Butler tried to pull it off as the Bulls headed back to their hotel before a morning flight across the country to Boston.

Nov. 27: 1:15 p.m. ET, Emerson College, Boston

With an afternoon start the following day, Thibodeau opted for a two-plus-hour practice on Thanksgiving, toward the end of the long road trip. Instead of flying home for a day, the veteran coach wanted to keep his team focused on the last leg of their trip.

Despite being away from their families, the Bulls appeared to be in good spirits. Noah was talking trash in advance of the team ping-pong tournament that would be held later that night. Mirotic was telling his teammates about his ping-pong prowess in Montenegro. Rivas was walking around the floor trying to get a count of which players would participate in the tournament. Veteran center Nazr Mohammed declined the invitation but posted a video of the proceedings later on Twitter and Instagram.

An afternoon Thanksgiving feast awaited at the team hotel, but as players started filing out, Noah continued talking trash to Bairstow while the Australian rookie knocked down free throws.

Noah, who said both his knee and eye were feeling better, was excited about playing in Boston.

"I think it's a great atmosphere," he said. "People here really know basketball. They appreciate competition. They talk a lot of s---. ... I love it."

Nov. 28: 4:12 p.m. ET, TD Garden, Boston

The Bulls had just come back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Celtics, and excitement jolted around the visitor's locker room. For just the fourth time this season, the Bulls' starters played together -- and played well. Noah had his best game of the year, Rose showed flashes of his old self, and Gasol and Butler were steady as usual.

Rose was asked about Thibodeau's ability to push the Bulls through adversity.

"It's just who he is," Rose said. "That's who this group is. The nucleus of this group has been together for a long time. We added some pieces, but the nucleus, we've been together, we've been through almost everything together. We went to the conference finals together. We've seen a lot. We've played through a lot, played through a lot of injuries, and we know how good we are. We know how good our coach and our coaching staff is. We're just trying to stay focused."

That focus took a hit a few moments later when Gibson, who rejoined the team the night before, picked up a yellow bucket of ice that had been sitting in the middle of the locker room and dumped it on players in the shower.

"Tajjjy Woo is back!" Noah exclaimed happily.

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellThe Bulls set up shop in the gym of Baruch College in preparation for their game against the Nets.

Nov. 29: 11:37 a.m. ET, Baruch College, New York City

Bulls video coordinator and jack-of-all-trades Dice Yoshimoto bounded down two floors and into the small gymnasium the Bulls practiced in for the day. The team bus was running, late and it was up to Yoshimoto to make sure everything was in order when Thibodeau and Co. arrived.

When they do, about 20 minutes later, it was clear Thibodeau, ever the control freak, was ready to jump right into action after being knocked off schedule.

Is it mentally any tougher to get guys up for the last game of a long trip?

"Well, that's the challenge of our league," Thibodeau said before launching into a familiar refrain. "The challenge of the league is, every night there's something different to deal with. Whether you're on the road for a long time or it's the last game of a long homestand, last game of a long road trip, first game back, early start, late start, back-to-back, four in [five], there's something every night. That's why you have to develop the right habits to prepare to play and to understand what goes into winning."

Gasol, who won two NBA championships with the Lakers, understands what goes into winning. That extended to the ping-pong table as well. A couple days after he won the Bulls' ping-pong tournament, it was the victory over Noah in the semifinals that he was thinking about moments before practice began.

"It's always fun playing Jo," Gasol said. "He's very intense. So I enjoy beating him. A lot."

Nov. 30: 5:52 p.m. ET, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

After the Bulls finished a winning Circus Trip (4-3) for just the second time in 10 years, the happiness in the visitor's locker room was palpable. A smiling Thibodeau reached into a small fridge for a Diet Coke and headed out the door while happily talking to veteran Aaron Brooks.

Butler, a Houston Texans fan, had an orange Denver Broncos jersey hanging in his locker door. My first thought was he might have lost a bet to a teammate, but Butler explained the No. 88 Demaryius Thomas jersey.

"My favorite player in the league, man," he said. "The Texans are my team, but this is my favorite player."

Butler said he caught up with Thomas in Denver.

"DeMaryius has a great background also," Butler said. "But more than anything, he's just a good dude, man. He came to the game in Denver, and we kicked it for a little bit, and I got a lot of respect for the guy."

Was hanging with Thomas, Butler's favorite moment on the trip?

"Just winning," he said with a smile. "We're 4-3 on the trip. That's enough for me, man. Winning games, baby."

With that, Butler made his way toward the exit. There was another plane to catch and more games to play, but if anyone deserved to savor the moment a little more, it was Butler.

He took his game to another level on this 15-day odyssey, and he's playing with the confidence to prove it.

Bulls starting five looking for consistency

November, 29, 2014
Nov 29
5:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- Derrick Rose and his teammates can see into the future.

They know if they can somehow manage to stay healthy -- especially the starting unit of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol -- they can be very dangerous.

"I think [the ceiling is] pretty high," Rose acknowledged before Saturday's practice.

The problem for the Bulls is that coming into Sunday's game against the Brooklyn Nets, that group has played together only four times in the regular season. Rose has missed the most time because of ankle and hamstring injuries, but Butler (thumb), Gasol (strained calf) and Noah (knee/eye/illness) have also missed time as well. A month into a season filled with championship expectations, the Bulls are hoping Friday's win over the Boston Celtics, in which all the starters played solid minutes, is the start of a new chapter of the season.

"It's kind of frustrating a little bit because we know how good we can be," Rose said. "And we know that it's a long season. And we're just trying to stay consistent with everything that we're doing knowing that we have a pretty, pretty good team. Right now defensively, we're not where we want to be."

While Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau are not happy with the defense right now, it's clear that when that group of five is on the floor together, it clicks very well on the offensive end.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, that group is averaging 111.2 points per 48 minutes. It has played 79 total minutes together this season. The players and coaches know if they can keep that group intact it is going to get better.

"We're going to be tough," Butler said. "I think it starts with just getting used to each other out here in practice and then applying it in a game. But we have so many weapons, and guys are doing so many things well in that starting five that it's going to be fun."

The interesting wrinkle to the research is that while the starting group is functioning very well, it's not even the Bulls' most productive group yet from a statistical perspective. That would be the five of Butler, Gasol, Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks and Taj Gibson. That group is averaging 130.5 points per 48 minutes but has played just 21 minutes together.

With Noah and Rose back in the fold, Thibodeau is optimistic they'll finally be able to string some games together. But in order to get better, Thibodeau knows it will be important for that group to start practicing more together.

"It's important," Thibodeau said of the starting group. "I think they have to play together, they have to practice together and that's the only way you can build chemistry. You got to work together. You got to build the right habits. You can't skip that. And so it's a move in the right direction for us."

Butler agreed with his coach's assessment regarding practice.

"I think practices are really important because that's where you get your rhythm going," he said. "We can step into a game at any point in time and make shots, but practicing with each other and getting in a rhythm and knowing what each and every guy likes to do that's in that group is very important."

While the Bulls try to find ways to stay healthy, the unit remains cautiously optimistic, led by Rose. They've seen a glimpse of how good they can be. They know they have the talent to accomplish what they want to later in the season. Now, they just have to prove it.

"I would say that everybody's just anxious to play together," Rose said. "I wouldn't say it's a relief. I think all the guys are, we want to play together but injuries and people being banged up has kind of messed that up. But I think guys are really anxious to get out there and put some games together."

Rose, Noah hope to play vs. Celtics

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
3:32
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON -- Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (left hamstring tightness) and center Joakim Noah (left eye/left knee) went through all of Thursday's practice and are both hoping to play Friday afternoon against the Boston Celtics.

Rose said he felt good after playing only 10 minutes in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Rose, who has already missed eight games this season due to injury, did not play in the second half and admitted after the game that he and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided it would be best if he sat out of the second half of the Nuggets game.

"I'm feeling good," Rose said. "I'm taking it one day at a time, getting the most out of all my treatments every day. Like I said before, just really trying to listen to my body. ... If I'm ready to go, I'm ready. If not, just really pay attention to my body. But the plan is that I want to play. So hopefully I'll be out there playing."

Thibodeau echoed those sentiments in regard to Rose's and Noah's participation.

"We'll see [Friday]," Thibodeau said. "But they were great today and we're just going day by day."

Rose, who has yet to start and finish two consecutive games this season, remains confident that he will be able to string together some games in the near future.

"You will see," he said. "You will see. I know I'm going to be all right. It's just that I'm getting a bad hand right now. I'm going through tough times, but I know it could always be worse and I know that I always got faith in myself and faith that somebody's looking over me."

Despite the ongoing pessimism surrounding his latest return, the former MVP remains outwardly confident that he will still be able to play at a high level.

"Coming back and even just playing a quarter, or playing a game, or even winning games and not having played in two years, that gives me a lot of confidence right there," Rose said. "I don't know if too many people could come back with the situation that I had or the hand I was dealt. That gives me confidence just knowing that I feel like I'm different."

After openly saying after Monday's win over the Utah Jazz that Rose needs to find ways to stay on the floor and that his star point guard didn't look "real comfortable with the ball yet," Thibodeau's stance has softened in recent days. That continued Thursday while discussing how Rose performed during his brief appearance against the Nuggets.

"To me, I want to look at it positively and I told him that," Thibodeau said. "The good thing was the way he played in Utah and then the fact he was able to play [in Denver], even though it was 10 minutes, those 10 minutes were good in terms of it gave us 10 minutes and put us in position to win. So it's not what it normally is with him where he plays 30 minutes or anything like that, but it's a step in the right direction. That's all we want him to do. He came over [to the gym], he felt good [Wednesday], he came over last night, he shot last night, he was great tonight. So it's all moving in the right direction. And that's all we want."

In other injury-related news, Thibodeau said power forward Taj Gibson is expected to rejoin the Bulls at some point on Thursday. He has been out all week after spraining his left ankle in the Bulls' loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 21. It remains unlikely Gibson will play in the near future, including Sunday afternoon's game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Keeping his cool tough for Noah vs. Kings

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
2:18
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Joakim Noah was about to lose it -- again.

WIth 4:30 left in the third quarter in the Chicago Bulls' loss to the Sacramento Kings, Noah couldn't believe he was called for a foul on Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. It was a "ticky-tack foul," as Noah called it. The whistle set off a tantrum that had the emotional Bulls center jumping around the floor and almost instantly picking up a technical foul.

For the second straight season at the Sleep Train Arena, Noah was on the verge of being ejected from a game. Last season produced arguably the most emotional outburst of Noah's career, in which he cursed at all three officials and was fined $15,000 for "verbal abuse" of the officials.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah played the fourth quarter with five fouls and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
But on Thursday night, in front of a nationally televised audience, Noah was able to keep those emotions in check. He was taken out of the game and marched straight to the bench to cool himself down. It was a smart move on a night when the Bulls struggled to find any offense after the first quarter.

"Yeah, s---- two years in a row [being ejected] wouldn't have been good," Noah said. "Just disappointing that we lost and -- I got to keep my cool."

For the first time all season, the Bulls looked emotionally rattled in front of a packed house. This was the third straight year they've lost to the Kings in Sacramento and it seems like several Bulls players, not just Noah, got spooked by a fan base that appears to be revitalized by a new ownership group and a better team.

"We have a lot of emotional guys, but we do have to control that," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 23 points. "But it's tough, there's a lot of emotion in this game and it happens at times. You can't be mad at that. But we got to control it better next time."

Noah just wants to keep everything simple.

"Just breathe," he said of the mindset he takes to reign his emotions back in. "You have to breathe and think about the big picture. It's a lot harder said than done. Just breathe. Have positive thoughts."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that's a fine line to straddle for Noah and the rest of his team. Like his players, the veteran coach didn't agree with many of the calls made by the officials, but that's all part of what the Bulls have to deal with as they continue on this two-week road trip.

"Jo's an emotional guy," Thibodeau said. "You don't want to take that away from him. You're on the road, you're not going to get calls. It is physical out there. It's just the way it is. There's some frustration to deal with, but we still got to find a way to pull that out in the end."

Even Noah had to praise the way the Kings have started coming together as a group this season.

"They're a good team," Noah said. "They're a very good team. They play hard at home. I think that they're starting to build something over here. Defensively they're better. DeMarcus is a lot better. He's playing more efficiently. … Sometimes he gets frustrated and that works in our favor. But I feel like this year he's the one getting guys frustrated, and it's worked for them so we'll see them again.

"We'll see them again at home and we'll be ready for that one, but you can tell there's been a lot of growing on his side as a player."

With Rose back, Bulls' balance in order

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
12:07
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- For the first time in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls actually had their entire starting five on the floor playing together Monday in a 102-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

That meant the return of Derrick Rose, the straw that stirs the drink for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls, who had missed four of the past five games with sprained ankles. With Rose on the court, it should come as no surprise that the starting unit played its best all-around game of the season. Rose scored 24 points with seven assists, Jimmy Butler continued his solid shooting with 19 points and Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol combined for 30 points, 29 rebounds and 10 assists.

[+] EnlargeRose
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastDerrick Rose scored 24 points in his return to the Bulls after missing four of the past five games with sprained ankles.
"It was really nice," Gasol said of finally playing with the Bulls' intended starting five.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson have garnered a lot of praise in the past few months for putting together the deepest roster in Thibodeau's tenure. But as solid as this group looks on paper, they know this team is only going to go as far as Rose takes them.

Rose has the rare ability to make everyone around him better, as he showed on Monday.

"Derrick's a hell of a player," Noah said. "It means having your best player on the court, our floor general. It means a lot. When he's out on the court, he demands so much attention and it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everybody else."

That might be the single biggest reminder from this game: Rose's ability to penetrate opens all kinds of space for his teammates. What has to please Thibodeau is that even when Rose couldn't find his shot during a few possessions in the waning minutes and the Bulls clinging to a 90-88 lead, there was Gasol to knock down a jumper off the ball movement that included a Mike Dunleavy assist. During the next possession, Rose set up an even bigger 3-pointer from Butler for a 95-88 lead with 1:55 remaining just as. Those are the types of possessions that the Bulls are hoping for in May, not just November.

"I think we're such an unselfish team that everybody's finding everybody in positions to score," Butler said. "I think that's one of the pluses of this team; we're each willing to make that extra pass so the next guy can get a great shot."

Lost in the excitement of Rose's return was the fact that Noah played easily the best game of his young season. As he continues to make his way back from offseason knee surgery and, more recently, a bad case of the flu, the All-Star center was more active than he has been in his five games this season with 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.

"I thought Jo, that was one of his best games," Thibodeau said. "You can see [his game] is coming. He and Pau were terrific inside battling and played very well off each other, too. And you're seeing Jo with the multiple-effort-type plays and that's huge for our team."

With Noah slowly improving, Rose continuing to shake off rust, and Gasol, Butler and Dunleavy all learning to play with each other, the Bulls offered a glimpse of what could be. This is the team that believes it can win the organization's seventh NBA championship this season. Gasol came to Chicago for that chance.

"It was good," Gasol said. "It was great to have everyone, the full roster, on the floor available and healthy. So now we just got to keep it that way."

Joakim Noah happy to be back

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
10:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- Joakim Noah still isn't feeling very well. After missing the past two games because of flu-like symptoms, the Chicago Bulls' big man is still making his way back into a rhythm, but he was pleased that he was able to contribute to another victory as the Bulls overcame the Philadelphia 76ers in a 118-115 win Friday night.

"I felt good, man," Noah said after scoring five points and grabbing nine rebounds in almost 31 minutes. "Coming back from [being sick], it is what it is. I'm happy we came out with the win. It's tough coming back from being sick and stuff, but no excuse -- we got it done and on to the next one [Saturday]."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was happy with the way Noah improved throughout the game and knows Noah has to continue working his way back into a rhythm as he continues recovering from offseason knee surgery.

"I think when you miss that time like he did and just being sick, his wind, it's going to take him a little while [to get back]," Thibodeau said. "But I thought as the game went on, he moved better and better. I think he'll be fine."

Noah believes that's the case, as well. Like the rest of his teammates, he is happy with the way the Bulls' offense is coming along.

"We're scoring in a lot of different ways," Noah said. "We were just talking about that with Taj [Gibson[. I remember when the score was like, 81-76 just [hoping] to get a basket. [We're] just scoring a hundred every night so far. We just got to keep building, keep getting better; we feel like we can still get better, too."

Rose likely out, Noah likely in against Sixers

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
11:24
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose did not participate in the morning shootaround and is officially a game-time decision against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night after tweaking his sprained ankles in Wednesday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Neither Rose nor coach Tom Thibodeau sounded optimistic about Rose's chances of playing against the Sixers.

"I'm feeling the same," Rose said. "A little sore. But [I'll] come in tonight, warm up a little bit more and see how it goes . . . if not, if I can't play, don't worry about it. I'm trying to be in it for the long haul."

Rose initially sprained both ankles in the second quarter of the Oct. 31 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He missed two games before returning against the Bucks, with 13 points and seven assists in 31 minutes, but did not seem to be moving well at times and was limping a little in the locker room after the game. Rose said it wasn't a setback, but admitted that he was sore and didn't feel like himself on the floor.

"I just wasn't able to play the way that I normally play," Rose said. "I think I had no fast-break points, didn't attack the way that I wanted to, but I just wanted to get that win."

Thibodeau continues to preach patience regarding Rose's return.

"It's his decision, along with the medical people," Thibodeau said. "You have to trust them. They're doing what's best. If he can't go, I don't want them out there. And if he's not comfortable enough to go, I don't want him out there. I feel really good about the guys we do have. We're going to let Derrick work his way through it and we got to be patient. There's going to be some ups, there'll be some downs, just keep moving forward, and that's all I want him to do.

"He's been out a long time, people tend to forget it, everyone wants it back in a day, it doesn't happen like that. When you miss the amount of time that he's missed, it's going to take a while for him to get back and we all have to understand that."

Rose remains in good spirits, but acknowledged that the latest injury setback, and all of the chatter about his future, got a little tiring.

"I think when I sprained it it was like that, but now I'm not thinking about it," he said. "We won a couple of games, the atmosphere, the vibe of the team is good right now, the spirit of the team is good and we're just trying to keep things going, stay positive and keep things going."

The Bulls' front office has also preached a patient approach, especially because Rose came into this season having played only 10 games in the past two years because of two serious knee injuries. Thibodeau just wants Rose to continue focusing on getting treatment and coming back to play consistently at the same high level.

"He's dealing with a sprained ankle right now," Thibodeau said. "We got to make sure he's recovered from that. You don't want him compensating for that and then something else happens. Just let him recover from that and that's what we're trying to do. So when he's ready to go he'll let us know and we'll go from there."

In other Bulls-related injury news, center Joakim Noah went through Friday's shootaround and is expected to play after missing the past two games because of flu-like symptoms.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 3.4 1.5 40.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.5
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 2.0