MIAMI — There’s two sides to Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah.
Everyone knows the charismatic, happy-go-lucky, naturally entertaining side of him. Then, there’s the fierce competitor seen on the court, a player who will do anything to win a game, an attribute that makes him loved in Chicago and hated elsewhere.
Well, the latter side to Noah has been on display as of late and though he hasn’t spoken to reporters in a couple of days, it’s become quite clear that his focus, even after missing all but one preseason game, is on making an impact in Tuesday night’s regular-season opener against the rival Heat.
“Every time you play against Miami it’s always a statement. We’re a hungry group. It’s one of 82, but we know that every time you play against Miami it’s important,” Noah explained. “It’s going to be a long journey, but we’re all very excited about it. We have hope. That’s a good feeling, to go into a season with hope. It’s exciting to really believe that we can do something special. If things go our way and we keep grinding the way we’re grinding right now, we’ll have a shot at the end of this.
[RELATED: Butler Bulls' X-factor against Heat?]
We know it goes through Miami. Those are the guys we want to beat. The East got better. Right now we’re taking it one day at a time, and we’re worried about us. We’re worried about our progress. Of course the goal is to win a championship, but the truth is in the work,” continued the Bulls’ defensive anchor, who only played 19 minutes in the exhibition season, a win over Detroit, after a strained groin suffered in the first week of training camp lingered on.
“To be honest, I was just more impressed with the work off the court than the work on the court. I think we’re still a work in progress. I think we need to be more fluid offensively, our reads have to be better defensively, but obviously we’re not a finished product. But the potential is there, so it’s a good feeling.”
But when asked about the Heat’s championship-ring ceremony before the game, Noah was less than expansive in his response: “I don’t want to talk about that,” he deadpanned.
It’s no secret that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been overly pleased with Noah’s absence in the preseason, despite the center’s feverish conditioning work leading up to the beginning of the regular season.
“Everyone needs conditioning. Everyone needs practice. It’s a team sport. You need everyone working together. You put your team together piece by piece and he’s a big part of the team. We need him out there. You need reps together. That’s important,” the coach previously said of Noah.
But by Tuesday morning’s shootaround, he softened his stance, finally admitting the center would play in the opener—Noah had professed that there was a “100 percent” chance he’d be ready, but teammate Luol Deng spilled the beans to the media before the Bulls left Chicago after Monday’s practice at the Berto Center—though he wouldn’t reveal if Noah would be in the starting lineup or not.
“He missed a lot of time in the preseason, slipped on a wet spot, but he’s healthy now, so we’ll go from there,” Thibodeau said. “He was fine in practice. We’ll see how he responds in the game.
However, perhaps the most revealing thing Thibodeau said about the center was this: “I think we just need him to play his game.”
If that happens and Noah is the energetic, offensive playmaking, defensive-minded, rebounding machine, dual-personality he usually is, then he, Thibodeau and the Bulls will be just fine, and that rough preseason will be a thing of the past.