DENVER—One comes in, one goes out.
All-Star center Joakim Noah will return to the Bulls’ lineup Thursday, after missing three consecutive games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
However, backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli will sit out the contest after injuring his right ankle in Monday’s loss at Indiana, though he returned to that game and scored a season-high 24 points.
Expect second-year swingman Jimmy Butler to play more at shooting guard behind starter Rip Hamilton, with fellow reserve Daequan Cook also a possibility to receive playing time.
Regardless of who’s in and who’s out of the lineup, Thursday night’s matchup between the Bulls and Nuggets will be a clash of styles, with the hosts attempting to push the tempo at all costs and the visitors trying to make the contest more of a defensive-oriented affair.
“I think they’re going to try to keep the pace of the game down,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “We’ve got to find ways to get our tempo into the game against their team, that probably wants to execute more than run with us.”
Countered Noah: “I think it’s just going to be slow them down in transition. They’ve got a point guard that can really push it, they play high tempo.
“Once we get our defense set, we’re a whole different team, so we’ve got to slow them down in transition.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that although the Nuggets’ strength is speeding up the game, particularly when playing at their high-altitude home arena, to say that Denver’s simply a run-and-gun team is oversimplifying things.
“They’re going to test you a lot of different ways and the first part is going to be our floor balance on the raise of the shot, and the way they push the ball and try to attack you before you get set, and if you turn the ball over against them and you’re putting them in the open floor off a live ball, those are difficult and then, their shot-blocking, you have to be smart. so, blocked shots and turnovers often lead to fast breaks, so we have to be ready to handle that and because they can play two point guards together [starter Ty Lawson and veteran Andre Miller], you have to be ready for multiple pick-and-rolls. In many ways, [Andre] Iguodala’s similar to a point guard because of what he can do with the ball, so we’ll be tested with pick-and-roll defense and then, the rebounding is such a big component. They’re so quick to the board, so it requires a multiple-effort mentality. You can never relax. We’re going to have to finish our defense, keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots, rebound. But then we have to execute offensively,” he explained. “What you have to do is make your team understand what the strengths and weaknesses of what their team are, so I mentioned to them what their record is. It’s good, but it’s remarkable when you consider what happened with their schedule to start the season and so, for them to come out of it and be in this position is a testament to how good they are, so we have to be ready for the way they’re playing right now, which is at a very, very high level and it requires a lot of discipline on our part to be ready for that.”
After an uneven start to the campaign partially due to a difficult, road-heavy schedule, Thibodeau believes the Nuggets are finding their groove as of late.
“They’re playing at a very high level. Playing very fast, sharing the ball. Their defense is underrated. I think Iguodala has added a lot to their defense and if you turn the ball over against them, and they get into the open floor, they’re going to make you pay, so we’ve got to take care of the ball. Their shot-blocking’s a factor. We have to play smart and we have to be ready,” Thibodeau said. “I think they’re terrific. There’s not much they don’t have. [Danilo] Gallinari’s an All-Star type player. Iguodala’s an All-Star type player. Ty Lawson is right on the cusp; he’s gotten better and better. Andre Miller has been, for some reason, one of the most underrated players in the league, and all that guy does is win and I think he’s terrific. In my eyes, he’s still an elite point guard.
“[Kenneth] Faried, people say, ‘Well, he’s an energy, effort type player,’ almost like they’re belittling that and to me, that’s a special talent he has and that is a talent. He’s a multiple-effort guy, a hustle guy who sprints the floor, goes to the board, never takes a possession off. I think guys like that, they give your team a lot of toughness, so you can never overlook those guys. He’s exceeded all expectations from the first day he’s been in this league and he continues to do so. He just keeps getting better and better. He’s quick to the ball, he’s going to make you pay for mistakes. He’s done a terrific job for them,” he continued. “[Backup center JaVale McGee is] a freak athlete. The shot-blocking’s huge; athleticism, quick, runs the floor, sprints the floor. [Starting center Kosta] Koufos has played very well, McGee has played well and [Timofey] Mozgov. They have quality depth up front and so, they just keep throwing guys [in], they keep coming in waves and you’ve got to be ready for that.”
DENVER—One comes in, one goes out.