DEERFIELD —While plenty of focus remains on Derrick Rose’s status heading into the Bulls’ preseason home opener Wednesday night—it would be the former league MVP’s first game at the United Center since April 28, 2012, when he tore his left ACL—All-Star center Joakim Noah could be making his season debut the same evening.
Noah suffered a strained groin during the first week of training camp and while he’s been sidelined due to precautionary measures, he’s been conspicuous by his absence on the court. After Tuesday’s practice at the Berto Center, Noah said he expects to play Wednesday against the revamped Detroit Pistons.
“I’m just really excited to be able to play. It’s been awhile. I feel like we’ve been having a very solid training camp. It feels good to be home,” the center said. “I want to be out there. I think I had a good summer. I worked really hard on my game. Having to sit the first two weeks was tough. I’ve been working, doing what I can do. I feel a lot better right now, so it’s good.”
While Noah has been able to participate in practices, Thibodeau knows his conditioning might not be up to speed yet, and potentially plans to use him in three six to eight-minute stints, similar to what Rose experienced upon his return in the Bulls’ first two exhibition affairs, both wins.
“I want to see where his conditioning is. He’s handled this part great and he was practicing, so that part I feel pretty good about. But when you get out there and you’re taking more contact on,” the coach explained. “That’s going to take more out of you, so I want to see how he responds to that. But I think overall, he’s feeling pretty well. You just have to get him out there and he’s got to get work with the starting unit.”
Noah seconded that sentiment, acknowledging that would be a difference between competing with and against his teammates, and matching up with opponents.
“You can do all the things on the sideline and running. There’s nothing that comes close to game-time conditioning. It’s going to be hard. But I’m really excited to get on the court and give what I got,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to give it everything I got. I’ll be fine.”
Still, Noah admitted he didn’t know what to expect from himself in his first game of this much-anticipated campaign.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I just want to be aggressive and help the team as much as I can. Talk to the younger players and try to help out and see what happens.”
As for Rose, Thibodeau said all is well on that front and though, like Noah, he didn’t definitively specify that the point guard would play against the Bulls’ Central Division rivals, the coach indicated that Rose would play slightly fewer minutes than the rest of the team’s starters, who are gradually increasing their workload.
“We’re just doing it step by step. I’m worried about tomorrow, so he’s going to give us whatever he has. He’ll be fine,” Thibodeau said. We’ll see what he can handle. We’ve got to work him up to starter’s minutes, but we’ll see.”