NEW YORK — It may have come as a surprise to everyone but himself, but Joakim Noah will attempt to play in Game 1 of the Bulls-Nets first-round playoff series Saturday night in Brooklyn.
The All-Star center, who has been dealing with an ongoing bout of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is more optimistic than he was after Friday afternoon’s practice back at the Berto Center, when he dejectedly announced, “I have a tear in my foot.”
Noah took place in the team’s morning shootaround at Manhattan’s John Jay College and prior to taking the Barclays Center court to warm up, he told reporters, "I'm feeling a little better. I just want to help the team as much as I can."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that the New York native will attempt to play against the Nets, which would be his first NBA game in Brooklyn.
“We’re going to let him warm up and if he feels OK, he’s going to go,” he said. “There will be some restrictions on him. As we explained the past couple games, he hasn’t had a problem playing nor after the game. It’s more the next day where the soreness comes into play.
“He was really disappointed yesterday. He said he felt a little better yesterday but not much. So that was a big concern. He said he felt a lot better today. So he wanted to go through the shootaround. He did that, felt fine after and said he wanted to give it a go. Then he had to be cleared by our trainer and doctor,” Thibodeau added. “The thing is it’s the type of injury where you don’t know how he’s going to feel the next day. It’s unusual. Some guys completely tear it and feel better right away. Some guys completely tear it and they have to shut it down. He’s had it before. He’s dealt with it. We just have to see how he is tomorrow.”
Whether Noah or veteran backup Nazr Mohammed starts for the Bulls—Thibodeau wouldn’t divulge if Noah would start, even if he does play—Brooklyn interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo insisted that the Nets’ approach won’t deviate.
“We have to play the same way. Joakim didn’t play the last time they were here and they beat us, and Nazr was one of the main reasons. I mean, Booz played out of his mind, but Nazr had a big game, played very well for them,” he explained. “I don’t know if either of us, have been 100 percent for the games, the rosters. If you look at the four box scores, there’s guys missing left and right, more so with Chicago. Those variables are going to be there—who’s playing, how much they play and even if they play, how effectively they play—so it won’t change what we do. We want to go inside regardless. We want to go to Brook [Lopez], we want to go to [Andray] Blatche, whether Joakim’s there or Nazr. We played in the game—I forgot what game it was—but the first game here, Nazr started, didn’t get off to a good start. They pretty much played the whole game with Luol at four and Taj at five, so it’s not going to matter. We’re going to try and play the same way.”
Another Bulls All-Star, injured point guard Derrick Rose, won’t play in Game 1 and while Thibodeau admitted earlier Saturday that the former league MVP is “most likely out” for the entire series, he revealed that the Chicago native could sit on the bench during the playoffs, something he only did once in the regular season, in a road game at Indiana.
“There’s two schools of thought on that. He was doing a lot of rehab work before and we had so many guys that were hurt, I actually didn’t want them all on the bench,” Thibodeau said. “I just thought it was more important for our guys to be focused on the guys that we had, so that part was really me. Now that we’ve gotten guys healthy, he may be out there more.”
As far as Rose’s progress, Thibodeau maintained that no significant development has occurred.
“I guess there’s always a chance. He has worked extremely hard. And he wants to be out there very badly. I know I’ve said it often that he’s close and he is. But he can’t quite make that final step. Until he can do that, we have to remain patient. As I mentioned this morning, it’s unlikely that he’ll play. But the way the playoffs are structured, a week from now maybe he makes that final step. So I never want to rule that out. But nothing has really changed,” he said.
“His game is very unique and the people who are around him every day, you know his explosion, speed, quickness, change of direction, so many different things and he has to be able to do that. He has to be able to cut freely and until he’s real comfortable with that final step, we have to be very careful about putting him out there and so, we’ve waited this long and if it means ewe have to wait another week, two weeks, until next year, so be it. But I just think we have to remain patient.
“From the start of the season, because of when the injury occurred, we knew he would be out for a good chunk of the season and we knew it would be a long process, so we went into camp with the understanding that Derrick would handle his rehab and focus on that, and then the team would focus on daily improvement and their next opponent and hopefully at some point, he would rejoin us," Thibodeau continued. "Now, he’s practiced with us and he’s doing everything at practice for quite a while now, since really January, so he’s been around the team. It hasn’t been an issue, it hasn’t been a distraction. We understood going into the season what we were going to have to deal with and we knew going in that no one player was going to replace Derrick and our only chance was to do it collectively, and for the most part, our team’s done a great job with that.”