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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Updated: February 2, 11:24 AM ET
Joakim Noah admits deal hurt play

ESPNChicago.com

He got a raise but his numbers were down, and now Joakim Noah is saying that the pressure of a big contract was affecting his play.

"Yeah, no question, I thought about that," Noah said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Sometimes you feel like because you're given so much money you're expected to do things. That's not the right mentality to have as a player. I have to play my game. I have to have fun out there. If I don't, I'm not the same player."

Noah signed a five-year, $60 million extension in October 2010 that kicked in this season. After averaging 11.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season, Noah has slipped to 8.5 points and 9.3 rebounds this year.

But Noah has picked up his game of late. He has five straight double-doubles, and had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists Monday against the Washington Wizards.

Worries started to mount early in the season when Noah averaged 6.7 points and 8.0 rebounds after 15 games. He had four games in that stretch in which he had only four rebounds. More importantly, Noah didn't seem to be playing with the passion that is such a big part of his game.

"I've always been a player who reacts well to criticism and doubters," Noah said, according to the Tribune. "I feel my teammates were always behind me. But I knew as well as anyone how poorly I was playing. And not only wasn't I playing well, but I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I wasn't playing loose out there. I was playing tight.

"In the beginning of the year, I was overthinking a lot. I was going through a lot of things personally. I feel a lot more comfortable now. I have to stop overthinking and just play."

Noah would not tell the newspaper what the personal issues were. But he wouldn't blame poor conditioning because of the lockout.

"It wasn't a question of being out of shape, he said, according to the Tribune. "I might be in a little better game shape now. But I came to camp in great shape."

His mental conditioning appears to be catching up to his physical. Noah said he is now playing with an edge.

"You have to be that way because this basketball thing is such an emotional roller-coaster," Noah said, according to the Tribune. "One day you're feeling amazing because you played well and your team won. The next night, you lose and you play like crap. It's definitely a man's league. And you always have to put yourself in question. But I'm feeling a lot more confident now."