BOSTON—Joakim Noah plans to continue his rivalry with Kevin Garnett in the Bulls’ final game before the All-Star break, Wednesday night against the Celtics.
The first-time All-Star center has been battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but prior to the Bulls’ morning shootaround at the TD BankNorth Garden, Noah said that he anticipates suiting up.
“I feel awesome. I’m feeling great,” said Noah, who noted that “trial by fire” is how he’s dealing with his ailment. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: “It’ll be a game-time [decision], but I do expect him to play.”
Noah wasn’t in the mood to discuss whether he’d play in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Houston, preferring to focus on the Celtics.
“I think we’re going to worry about the game right now, focus on the Boston Celtics. It’s a big game tonight, last game before All-Star break. We’re going to set the tone and then we’ll see what happens from there,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on the task at hand tonight. Try to live in the moment, enjoy this. Boston, it’s always a great basketball environment. Focus on the task at hand and then see what happens over the weekend.”
Thibodeau was more expansive about the topic.
“Barring any unforeseen setbacks [Thibodeau expects Noah to play in Houston]. He’ll make a good decision. He’s managing it fine right now and we’ll see where he is before he gets to the game, but I think he’ll be fine,” said Thibodeau, who added that he will spend the break at the Berto Center. “[Noah will make the decision] along with the [Bulls] medical people. Jo will do what’s right and obviously if he can play, he should play. Just take it day by day.”
Thibodeau also talked about the status of injured starting point guard Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich didn’t make the trip to Boston, but the coach believes he’ll be back from his right-elbow injury after the All-Star break.
“[Hinrich] should be good [after the All-Star break],” he said. “I don’t want to speak too soon, but he’s coming along well and hopefully he’ll be ready to go.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls remain focused on their opponent Wednesday, who have won seven out of their last eight games since All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
“They have quality depth and I think when you lose a guy like Rondo, it galvanizes the team. They know they have to play hard and together. I think what makes them so unique is the versatility of [Paul] Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett because you can run a lot of your offense through them,” Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant, explained. “Paul has a very unique skill set, in the sense that he can play as a point guard, and Garnett, he’s a great passer. Those guys are handling the ball a little bit more and they play hard, they play smart and they’re tough, and they’ve been in a lot of tight situations, so they’re playing at a high level right now.”
“They’ve just been playing well, moving the ball well, offense going through Paul Pierce a lot more," All-Star Luol Deng added. "This is the NBA. We’ve been in that situation where we had guys out and we just lost to a team that had some guys out. Guys just rally together. In this league, guys can play. You can lose to anybody any day.”
Noah acknowledged his “respect” for Garnett, but also expressed his thoughts on the rivalry for the soon-to-be Eastern Conference All-Star teammates.
“I don’t know if you would call it a relationship. He’s a hell of a competitor and I know that he’s going to do anything to try to win a basketball game, he’ll do whatever it takes and we feel the same way, so it’ll be a fun game tonight,” he said. “When we win, I enjoy playing against him.
As for the game in general, Deng, who has been in a bit of a slump as of late, is approaching it very seriously.
“It’s huge, especially after we dropped our last one. You want to go into the break on a positive note. It’s been a good half of the season so far and you want to go into the break with the right mindset when we come back,” Deng said. “It’s a long season. I think sometimes you don’t realize little tweaks here and there can take you out of your rhythm. I just feel like I’ve got to get back into my rhythm a little bit. Since the hamstring, I’ve been kind of up and down with games. But that’s going to happen during the season. There’s just so many games. I think the break’s going to be good for everyone. But I think what we’ve got to do is make sure we focused in tonight and then go into break, not go into the break before.”