"Nope," Joakim Noah said.
The All-Star center refused to pretend that Thursday night's showdown against the defending-champion Heat was just another game.
"It’s really not. It’s exciting. These are the games you circle on the calendar. The United Center is going to be popping. It’s going to be loud. Those are the games you train hard for."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau took the opposite approach, downplaying the rivalry between the teams.
"That’s two years ago. There are a lot of good teams in the league and you have to be ready for all of them. Miami because they’re the defending champion, the year before it was Dallas, whoever wins it you always chase those people. Whoever wins the conference championship, you’re chasing that team as well," he said after Wednesday's practice at the Berto Center. "I think we’ve played them 13 times over the last three years. They’re all the same. They’re going to be physical, hard-fought, tough. And it usually comes down to the last possession. Nothing is going to change. They’re extremely well-coached. They’re hard-playing, tough, They play together. And they’re not going to beat themselves."
Noah, who famously described the Heat as "Hollywood," said he didn't do much interacting with Eastern Conference All-Star teammates Chris Bosh, Chicago native Dwyane Wade and reigning league MVP LeBron James in Houston last weekend.
Still, even with the Bulls owning a 1-0 edge in the season series following an early-January win in Miami, he kept the upcoming matchup in perspective.
"Every game is an obstacle. The NBA season is very long and grueling and hard. Obviously, the playoffs is what it’s all about. Winning these games in the regular season is very important. It gives you confidence and good seeding. We know we have one of the toughest buildings to play in, so we want that in the playoffs," Noah said, before hedging on whether or not he believed the Bulls had improved since last month's victory. "Only time will tell. We played a pretty good game that game. We’ll see. It’s hard to say."
Noah was even gracious enough to admit he agrees that the consensus opinion of James' status as the game's top current player is a correct assessment.
"Yeah, I think he is. Definitely one of the top two or three. Everybody’s a little bit different, but he’s definitely a handful." he said. "You have to give credit where credit is due. He’s one of the best to do it. You have to respect your opponent. At the same time, we feel like we’re more than capable of winning. So we respect our abilities too."
Thibodeau concurred: "When you look at his entire career, each year he has gotten significantly better. He has the ability to dominate a game in so many different ways. He can do it through post up, drive, his shot, through the pass, through his defense. That’s what makes him so unique. He’s obviously the way his team is playing and the fact they won the title last year and he remains so hungry is a credit to him."
"I respect him and the way he competes. You look at that," he continued, then referencing the Bulls' failed pursuit of the then-free agent in 2010, when James made "The Decision" to take his talents to South Beach. "It didn’t work out for us. He earned the right to make the decision that he did. It’s worked out well for him. He remained true to himself. You tip your hat. We moved on and it worked out well for us. You just keep moving forward.
"He’s a very bright guy who understands the game at a very high level."
"Nope," Joakim Noah said.