NEW ORLEANS—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau joked with the assembled media before the game that Joakim Noah’s claims of not sleeping throughout All-Star weekend were a bit exaggerated, despite the center’s reputation for enjoying what life has to offer.
Whether or not that’s true, Noah’s monster performance—he had 15 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots Tuesday night in the Bulls’ 96-87 win over the Hornets—showed that after his debut All-Star appearance, he was ready to go for the second half of the regular season, as well as demonstrating that a hiatus from the grind of the campaign did the plantar fasciitis in his right foot some good, too.
“Joakim was everywhere, multiple-effort plays. That probably was one of his best screening games,” Thibodeau said. “The biggest thing is that he practiced great yesterday and he practiced great this morning. That, more than anything, told me that he was going to be ready to go and that’s what we expect from him, and that’s what we need. As a leader of the team, that’s what we has to do and so, it was great to see the approach he had coming back from the break. He didn’t stay on the break. He was ready to go.”
Noah, as usual, focused on the team afterwards.
“It felt good to get back to work. I think that we practiced with a great mindset yesterday, practiced hard and I think everybody’s excited about the second half of the season,” he said. “We played with an edge from the beginning to the end. Even when things weren’t going our way, we brushed it off right away and it was always about the next play. A lot of guys stepped up today and it was a great team win.”
Aside from Noah, Thibodeau was pleased with the effort of the entire squad.
“The level of intensity was very good. I loved the pace to start the game, the defense was solid, the ball was hopping, making quick decisions, not short-cutting things, making the extra pass, setting good screens. I thought overall, it was very good,” he said. “Jimmy gave us a lift with his defense. I thought guys played to their strengths. I thought Rip was very effective when he was in there.
“I thought Nazr gave us good minutes in the first half, so it was a good team win,” he continued. “Down the stretch, you’ve got to make tough plays, it’s got to be five guys tied together on both ends and I thought we did that.”
Belinelli makes successful return to New Orleans
Prior to the team’s morning shootaround, backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli talked about his first game back in New Orleans since he signed with the Bulls as a free agent over the summer.
“When you come back, you want to come here, play a good game and win, especially after the All-Star break. I think it’s going to be an important game for us, especially for me,” said Belinelli, who scored nine points in the win, avenging a loss to the Hornets at the United Center earlier in the season. “I follow [them] a little bit. I watch on TV. They play good, they play aggressive and they’re a young team, but they play tough. I remember when they played against us. They won the game easy, so we want to come here and try to play aggressive from the start of the game.”
Thibodeau also reflected on Belinelli’s development over the course of the season.
“I think he’s gotten more comfortable. He started slowly…but we felt good about the fact that he had played so well in the league prior to us getting him, and I think he played very well here. We were excited about the opportunity when we were able to get him. I think the fact that he’s able to make plays off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll. He can start, come off the bench. He’s been a big plus for us,” the coach said. “I just like how team-oriented he is and it says a lot about him. He did the same thing here. He’ll do whatever you ask him to do and we needed more playmaking, and so, he stepped that up. But when he was here, it was more catch-and-shoot. The thing I do like is that he plays to his strengths, covers up his weaknesses, tries to fit into the team and he’s gotten better and better as the season goes on.”
Thibodeau impressed by top pick Davis
Chicago native Anthony Davis missed an opportunity to play in his hometown this season due to suffering a concussion prior to the Hornets’ win at the United Center, but if people in the Windy City tuned in to see the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, he gave them a show Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-10 University of Kentucky product and former South Side resident scored 15 points, snatched 10 rebounds and swiped four steals on the evening, but beyond his numbers, Davis’ length, athleticism, shooting touch, defensive presence and uncanny dexterity for his size—he went from being an unknown 6-foot-2 point guard to the nation’s top-ranked high school player current height virtually overnight—is remarkable.
Aside from two spectacular alley-oop dunks, a ridiculous tip-in lob and subsequent three-point play to end the first half and an exhibition of his comfortable mid-range jumper, perhaps the most jaw-dropping play Davis made was a save of an errant pass way above the rim and in one motion, an on-target pass that led to a three-pointer for Hornets teammate Eric Gordon that was clearly his intention, not an accident.
Once Davis adds some bulk to his spindly frame, acquires some go-to post moves—not a given for a player who grew up as a guard—and gains more experience, the sky’s the limit for last year’s NCAA player of the year.
Thibodeau gushed about Davis’ game before the Bulls’ morning shootaround.
“He’s just incredible. When you look at his skill set, he’s so unique. His timing, shot-blocking, athleticism and he’s a basketball player. He can put it on the floor, he can shoot it a little bit and you can see he’s getting more and more confident each time he’s on the floor. He does a lot of things that you can’t teach,” he said. “I didn’t see him a lot in high school. I saw him some at Kentucky, watched quite a few of their games and you could tell he’s going to be one of those guys who continues to get better and better, and the more he plays, the more experience he gains and the stronger he gets, the more confident he’s going to be his second time around with some of these teams. I think he’s settling down, the game’s slowing down for him. But he’s impressive. The things that he does on the floor, sometimes you’re looking at him and you’re like, ‘Geez, how did he make up that ground?’ He has the ability to cover up for a lot of mistakes.”
Boozer enjoyed his All-Star break
After being snubbed from the All-Star Game, Boozer didn’t hang his head and pout about it.
Instead, he went to his offseason home of Miami and, along with backup point guard Nate Robinson and former Utah teammate Deron Williams, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, he enjoyed a family vacation, complete with unconventional conditioning drills.
“I was just chilling, man. It was just my kids, Nate’s kids, D-Will and his kids. We just had a great time at the beach. We didn’t even play basketball. We just played football, swam. All our conditioning was in the pool. We were swimming the whole time with kids on our backs. It was fun,” he said. “I thought we all needed a little break. Get away from it, get rejuvenated, get recharged, especially mentally. Obviously physically, too. We had a lot of guys that were banged up. Some of us are still banged up, but we’re playing through it. We’ve got one of those teams that you can go out there and play as hard as you can. When you go sit down, the next guy coming in can also be very effective.”
Bulls already anticipating Miami showdown
After beating the Hornets, Thibodeau started to lock in on his team’s next opponent, the defending-champion Heat, who visit the United Center for a Thursday-night matchup.
The Bulls knocked off the Heat in Miami last month, so Thibodeau understands the formula for a win has to remain the same.
“It’s your entire team. They have so many weapons, they’re playing at a very high level. You can’t overcommit in one area because they can burn you in so many other areas. It has to be a multiple-effort game,” he explained. “You have to get back, get set, protect the paint and challenge shots, rebound. The thing that often gets overlooked with them is how good they are defensively. To beat them, you have to play a great game.”
Boozer added: “We’ll get to practice, we’ll get prepared for them. They’re a good team, we’re a good team. It should be fun.”