The Bulls Monday begin their only four-game-in-five-nights sequence, but it looks like reinforcements may be in the way. OK, maybe just one, Joakim Noah.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back on Monday,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said before Saturday’s game with Atlanta. “He’s going through some activity today (Noah did not make the trip to Atlanta). We’ll get him doing some live stuff tomorrow. Hopefully, he’ll get through a full practice, get him back in the lineup. I think the big thing is getting him through a full practice, which he has not done yet. If we get him through a full practice tomorrow then hopefully we can get him back (playing) on Monday (against Washington).”
Saturday’s will be the eighth consecutive game Noah has missed after injuring his left shoulder Dec. 21 against Brooklyn. The Bulls have played their best basketball of the season since then, especially the last six games before Saturday with six straight wins.
Though much has occurred since then with Jimmy Butler’s daring comments, vice-president John Paxson’s demanding speech to the team, the addition of rookie Bobby Portis to the rotation, Taj Gibson starting and enhanced scoring from Butler.
“I think our guys are in a pretty good place right now,” said Hoiberg. “It’s just going out and doing the things that we’ve done recently. We can’t go away from what we’ve done. You know we’ve been much better offensively, much more efficient offensively.
“They’ve done a good job (without Noah),” Hoiberg said. “(But) Jo was such a key component in that second group. He’s kind of a catalyst to get those guys moving. He’s so good with dribble handoffs, back cuts, getting everybody involved. With Jo out of the lineup, it’s been good to see those guys – and its really been all five of them; they’ve played some key minutes – starting the fourth quarter. I thought they did a really good job of it the other night (against Boston). With Bobby, he’s gotten a great opportunity. He will remain in the lineup when Jo comes back. It’s just going to be juggling how we disperse some minutes and we’ll go from there.”
Though no one is suggesting leaving Noah behind. After all, the Clippers have played their best this season since Blake Griffin was injured. But no one is coming up with trade suggestions. At least among the Clippers.
Being wealthier (with talent) shouldn’t be viewed as a problem. It a matter of properly managing the wealth.
Hoiberg also said nothing much is imminent regarding the return of forward Mike Dunleavy.
“With Mike, hopefully, we’ll get him back on the court in the next 10 days or so,” said Hoiberg. “Get him out there cutting and moving and hopefully he’ll respond well to that. But I think looking at it realistically he’s probably still a good month away from being able to play. Just making sure he’s 100 percent. Not putting him out there if he has any lingering pain with the back. Going down the leg. Just getting him right, getting him ready to play. And obviously when that happens he’ll be a welcome addition to this team.”
Hoiberg also said he didn’t believe there was anything imminent regarding changing the personnel.
“I don’t think there’s active aggressiveness,” said Hoiberg regarding trades. “I think those guys (Paxson and Gar Forman) are doing their job, which is to talk to other front offices. I think, obviously, we’re very pleased with the direction this team is going and hopefully will continue on an upward path. I’ve been there and lived that life for a couple years (in the front office at trade deadline). You’re always out there listening, seeing if there’s some things you can do to improve the roster long term. As far as being active with it, I don’t think so.”
As for the team, Hoiberg says he likes the progression.
“I think we’re obviously a better basketball team,” said Hoiberg. “We won a few of those games early and they weren’t real pretty. It’s a matter of building trust with each other and I think we’ve done a good job of that as the season’s gone on. When adversity hit, it’s just fighting through it, battling through it. Fight through the tough times. That’s the key to anybody’s season. Some will face it now. Some have already faced it and have gotten better. Which, again, you have to do. We did a good job of that when we fought through some of that and we’ll have to do some of that again.
“Just overall movement (on the floor) has been so much better,” said Hoiberg. “We had pace early in the season; we just weren’t very efficient. Trusting each other more. The ball movement has been much better, much more consistent. There’s still times in the game that, like Boston the other night, it wasn’t very good. Especially that first quarter. But it got better as the game went on. We’re running better. Putting Taj in at the four maybe.
“Obviously you have to have a mental toughness if you’re going to compete on the road,” said Hoiberg about the upcoming road heavy stretch. “We’ve had a couple very good road wins, at OKC. Our win at Toronto just last week. Those were huge, but it is a different mindset when you take your team on the road. You’ve got to have the 12 or 15 that are with you to go out there and find a way to fight through those rough times.”
And one more to return should help.