DEERFIELD, Ill. — First the good news: All-Star Luol Deng apparently has no repercussions from the elbow he took at the conclusion of Thursday’s home win over Philadelphia, besides having to make a trip to the dentist, and will play in Saturday night’s matchup with Brooklyn at the United Center.
“He’s doing okay,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the team’s morning shootaround at the Berto Center. “His headache’s gone.”
Now, the bad news: Rip Hamilton will miss his second consecutive game with lower back spasms, joining top reserve Taj Gibson and of course, Derrick Rose, as players who will be unavailable against the Nets.
“He’s out tonight,” Thibodeau said. “[Hamilton’s back] went out on him before the game [Thursday]. It just locked up.”
Gibson continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a sprained left MCL, suffered in Sunday’s loss at Oklahoma City, according to Thibodeau.
“Taj had a great work day,” he said. “It’s day-to-day. He’s coming along, though.”
[MORE: Bulls' new acquisition Amundson ready to contribute]
As far as Rose, the former league MVP is also diligently working toward an eventual return to the court, the coach said.
“He’s doing great. Just got to keep improving every day, so that’s the encouraging thing. He’s got a great frame of mind, he’s improving. The team has to keep working on their improvement,” Thibodeau explained. “He’s right where he should be. He’s put a lot of work into his shooting. Obviously with the time off, that gave him extra time to do that, but in all areas. He’s really worked hard on his body. He’s come along well.”
One player whose health isn’t much of a current concern is All-Star center Joakim Noah — Thibodeau joked about the plantar fasciitis in Noah’s right foot: “It felt pretty good the other night, I know that” — who is coming off a historic triple-double in the win over the Sixers.
[WATCH: Relive every moment of Joakim Noah's triple-double against Philadelphia]
“To me, the thing that’s encouraging is he continues to improve and I still think there’s a lot of room for growth. He’s had a terrific season and he keeps getting better and better, and that’s a credit to the way he’s approached things. But I think that he can continue to get better. I like the fact that he’s a multiple-effort guy and he has a very unique skill set offensively, and he’s one of our team leaders,” Thibodeau said of Noah, who scored 23 points, snatched 21 rebounds and blocked 11 shots on the evening. “I’ve watched it a couple times since. That’s what he’s capable of and when you think about it, he didn’t take any plays off in that game. He played with great energy on offense and defense. I think that’s a special talent to be able to do that, so he’s got to do that every night.”
But that’s in the past and for talk surrounding the team to not revert to their recent struggles, it can’t just be a one-game thing.
“You’re going to go through different things during the course of the season and part of it is where you are in your schedule, whether you’ve been on the road for an extended amount of time, who’s been out during that time and you’re going further and further into your bench, and so, it’s guys getting accustomed to playing with one another and maybe they’re in slightly different roles. You see if there’s an adjustment period there. But that being said, if we do the right things, there’s a chance to win every night and that’s the way we have to approach it,” he said. “There’s going to be certain ups and downs during an NBA season. You’ve got to be able to get through all of it. I thought we’ve got some mentally-tough guys. I thought what Jo did the other night helped unite and inspire our team, and that’s what it takes, so we need a whole team that’s willing to make that type of commitment and when we do that, we have a chance against anybody.
“The good thing about as you come down the stretch is there are a lot of head-to-head games. Usually, most of your out-of-conference games are over with, so then it becomes a lot of head-to-head,” Thibodeau continued, referring to the end-of-season jockeying for playoff positioning. “But the bigger concern is the daily improvement, playing your best down the stretch and being as healthy as possible, so you stay focused on that and you want to continue to build the right habits that will give you your best chance at the end.”
Saturday’s opponent, fifth-place Brooklyn, sits directly ahead of the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings by a half-game.
“They’re good. They have a deep team, they have versatility,” Thibodeau lauded. “Joe Johnson played last night. Their backcourt is very versatile. C.J. [Watson] can bring the ball up, Joe Johnson can run it, Deron Williams can come off pin-downs. Williams is really playing at a high level right now. [Brook] Lopez, of course, is having an All-Star type season. Reggie Evans, just effort, energy. Then, you can’t overlook that bench. I think [Keith] Bogans brings a lot of toughness to the team, [Andray] Blatche has had a terrific year for them, so they have a lot of weapons.”