NEW YORK—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was conservative in his estimation of whether the injured trio of Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah would play in Wednesday night’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
“Jimmy is out,” the coach allowed about Butler, the team’s starting shooting guard, before moving on to the All-Star duo of Deng and Noah. “Lu’s going to warm up to see if he can go. Jo’s going to warm up to see if he can go. I think everyone else is a go.”
After warming up, however, Deng said that he was unable to play for the third consecutive game because of a sore left Achilles’. The All-Star small forward indicated that he was unable to push off and thus, was ruled out by the Bulls’ medical staff.
Thibodeau acknowledged, even before the decision, Deng’s value to the team.
“Not only our offense, he’s an all-around player, so it’s all the things that he does,” Thibodeau said about Deng. “It’s what he brings to our team.”
As far as Noah, the All-Star center, a New York City native, will give it a go after missing Tuesday’s home loss to the lowly Bucks with a right-knee injury, an ailment he had been playing through for “three or four” games.
[MORE: Bulls sign point guard DJ Augustin]
Before he had knowledge of Noah’s decision, Thibodeau downplayed the big man’s local ties as “motivation” to suit up.
“I think he wants to play all the time,” the coach explained. “I think the swelling’s gone down in his knee, his thigh area, so he feels better. So he’s going to give it a shot.”
Thibodeau shed some light on his decision-making process when it comes to sidelined players returning to the lineup.
“I talk to the trainer, get his thoughts and usually, you can see it, whether a guy can play his normal minutes or if you have to shorten them because of his conditioning,” he said. “Usually, when a guy’s been out an extended amount of time, you know you’re going to shorten his minutes when he first comes back.”
The coach was also surprisingly very candid about his own personal policy about withholding all but the basics of injury-related information.
“I know where you’re going,” he began, adding that he “didn’t know about Jo’s injury,” something the media only learned after the coach’s pregame media availability Tuesday in Chicago. “The thing is I found out as I went back to my office, so he was in the shootaround. He had taken on that injury—it was a bruise in the New Orleans game—so he had played two games after that where he had played great.
“So I thought he was moving around in a positive direction. That was a last-minute thing that came up,” Thibodeau continued. “I focus in on the guys we do have. Injuries are a part of this league. A guy can get nicked up, and the season goes along every player is dealing with something. You play hard, you play physical, you’re going to get bumped up.
“I guess I’m old school in the sense of I don’t see the need to advertise what’s ailing you. I know a lot of the teams I played with they looked to attack the guys that were saying those things, so I don’t want to put us at any disadvantage. To me, that’s the reason I do it.”
[NBA: League will look at eliminating divisions]
Fittingly, former Knicks legend Larry Johnson—now a team employee, the undersized power forward played for New York when Thibodeau was an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy—walked by and greeted the coach.
“Thibs, what up?” Johnson said, eliciting an “L.J.” greeting from Thibodeau. “just hollering, man.”
“You’ve got a lot going on right now,” the retired player added. “I’ll talk to you later.”