NEW YORK — Joakim Noah returned to the lineup for Wednesday’s 83-78 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden after missing Tuesday’s home loss to the Bucks with a right-knee injury.
Noah’s play improved as the evening went on, finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in his hometown, but while his tip-in tied the game at 72 in the Bulls’ fourth-quarter rally, he also committed five turnovers on the night. But more significantly, the All-Star center’s health was improved.
“My knee feels all right. I got it drained yesterday. Got hit in the quad and my knee, for some reason, just swelled up real bad, so I got it drained and I feel better,” Noah explained. “It happened a week ago and I was playing on it, playing on it and my knee was getting better. The swelling was just accumulating. It happens.”
Deng, Butler still on the mend
Luol Deng missed his third straight game with a left Achilles’ injury after the Bulls’ training staff ruled him out following pregame warmups. The All-Star small forward, who attended prep school in nearby New Jersey, was disappointed he couldn’t face the Knicks and counterpart Carmelo Anthony.
“I wanted to play today. I kind of set this game as a target to play and I just didn’t feel well warming up,” said the Bulls’ leading scorer. “We’re just really cautious right now of coming back and then having a setback, so I’m going to try to [work out] tomorrow or just try to do more, see how much I can do and hopefully I’ll be back on the court soon.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added: “We’ll see where he is tomorrow. He said he’s feeling better, but he’s not quite there. The same with Jimmy [Butler].”
Butler, the Bulls’ starting shooting guard, has now missed 11 consecutive games with a right turf-toe injury.
Bulls’ new addition a familiar commodity
Please excuse taking a Thibodeau quote out of context for a moment, but when the Bulls head coach said, “Each player has different strengths and weaknesses, so when a new guy steps in, you have to analyze what his strengths are and play to those strengths, cover up the weaknesses,” D.J. Augustin should be kept in mind.
The sixth-year veteran point guard signed a non-guaranteed contract Wednesday with the Bulls and will take a physical Thursday, a person with knowledge of the situation told CSNChicago.com, confirming an earlier report from Yahoo! Sports. Augustin should be in uniform and available to play Saturday in Chicago, ironically against the Raptors, his previous team.
But back to Thibodeau’s quote. Apparently some of his players already are quite familiar with the game of Augustin, who was drafted by Charlotte and played last season in Indiana before spending the beginning of this season with Toronto.
“We did? That’s great. More bodies we can get, it’ll help us because right now, we feel we have a great shot. We’re just missing two of our veteran warriors we normally go to battle with,” Taj Gibson said, when informed of the roster move. “D.J. Augustin from Texas? He’s a phenomenal guard. I remember going against him since I was at USC. We beat them in the [NCAA Tournament]. He was playing with Kevin Durant. He was a great point guard, great scoring point guard at that.”
Gibson believes Augustin will provide relief for veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich, who has been struggling with both his shot and a heavy workload as of late.
“Yeah, he’s a veteran guard, especially a guy who can shoot the ball from deep. He’s a good scorer, he just needs an opportunity. I think it’ll be a good look for our team because we’re trying to keep guys healthy,” Gibson explained. “Kirk has been playing a lot of minutes. He’s in foul trouble, he’s digging in there, banging with the bigs. I’m just playing that he doesn’t get whacked the way he did last year, but so far, he’s been okay.”
Gibson talks individual scoring, team defense
Gibson, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his hometown Wednesday — his seventh consecutive double-figure scoring game — has seen an increase in the defensive attention he’s received in recent outings.
“Now I’m starting to see — like in the Milwaukee game — I’m seeing double-teams now. They’re taking away the baseline and like tonight, I was so pissed. He [Carmelo Anthony] pulled the chair on me,” he explained. “I’ve just got to adjust. Like Thibs said, ‘You’ve just got to keep adjusting, watch film.’ They’re seeing I’ve been hot lately off the bench. I’m trying to keep it going.”
While Gibson’s much-improved post-up game is something new, his defensive prowess has always been a strong suit. But Gibson has noticed that without Deng and Butler, in particular, he’s had even more on his plate these days.
“Normally we don’t have to help. It’s tough because sometimes the isolation — when Melo or [LeBron] James iso’s Dunleavy or switches and Marquis Teague [has to defend the player] — it’s tough because you have to help off them. You’ve got to get the switch back and get them out of the paint. Normally, when we switch back, we’ve got strong-side defenders that are capable of holding their own,” Gibson said. “For instance, if it’s me and Jimmy in the screen-and-roll, say Carmelo and [Amar’e] Stoudemire, Jimmy’s going to switch, he’s going to do a good job containing [Stoudemire] and right now, it’s tough because we’ve got guys who are okay defenders. We kind of cover them up so they don’t get in foul trouble because we’ve got to keep these guys on the floor.”