Noah: Rivalry more than teams
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah is beloved in Chicago because of his attitude. He plays hard on the court and speaks his mind off it.
"Always," he said. "Always. No question. I think the people in this city, there's something about when Miami comes to town. You wake up in the morning, you just feel it. You feel ... people in this city, they don't like [the] Miami Heat. We don't like the Miami Heat. It always feels good to beat them."
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Why does Noah dislike the Heat so much?
"A lot of battles," he said. "A lot of scars. A lot of tough losses. A lot of seasons ending because of them."
Then Noah acknowledged something that everyone around him has known for weeks -- he has been struggling to deal with the fact that Derrick Rose it out again after season-ending knee surgery. Noah has been in a funk since Rose went down Nov. 22 with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, but in Thursday's game he racked up 17 points and 15 rebounds.
"Our team needed [this win]," Noah said. "We've been through a lot the last couple weeks. Even for me, I think it's really hard to play without Derrick. I want to win with Derrick Rose. What Derrick represents to this city, there's not a lot of players who have that. He brings a lot of hope to the city, and I feed off that. I feel really privileged to be able to play in that position, so him going down was really hard for me, hard for us, but we have to move on and it's not easy."
His teammates and coaches were happy to see him perform so well.
"He's just been putting in the work," forward Taj Gibson said. "We always stay late, we always go at it in the post, especially Jo. He stays extremely late, works on his game, and sometimes it doesn't show right away, and as [coach Tom Thibodeau] said, we've been having some real close games.
"The offense has been going great -- it's going to be times where you're going to have nothing to show for it, and tonight he really stepped up and I'm happy we got a win and it really showed well for him."
Thibodeau believes Noah is getting his game back in order.
"He is getting his rhythm," Thibodeau said. "His big issue this year was missing training camp; now you can see his timing is coming back and he is getting a lot more comfortable with the ball. His defense has been there, but his reaction and timing is pretty good right now. Being ready mentally, being ready physically and being ready emotionally ... you need all three qualities."
Noah appeared to be having more fun on the court than he has in weeks. So much so that he even broke out the celebratory finger guns that he holstered last season in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The All-Star center believes he and his team are finally back on track and coming to grips with the fact that Rose isn't coming back this season.
"I think we're capable," Noah said. "I think we just got to keep it up. I think we've been through a lot with a lot of guys in this group. We've been through a lot of adversity, a lot of battles together, and we know we're battle tested."