Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
By Aggrey Sam
NEW ORLEANSHeading into the fifth and final game of their current road trip, the Bulls are obviously focused on finishing the five-game swing on a positive notenot only would put them above .500 on the trip, its the teams last contest away from home before All-Star weekendbut even with their tremendous collective focus, its hard not to look toward the future. Specifically, after the aforementioned annual midseason break, when sidelined center Joakim Noah is slated to return to the lineup.
Im very excited. Just working out, got some tape on my hand instead of a cast, can shoot a little bit and get back on the court as soon as I can, said Noah, who can be observed after Bulls practices going up against veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine as he adjusts to taking contact following December surgery on his right thumb, prior to the teams Saturday morning shootaround at New Orleans Arena. Its been good., just getting used to contact again. Obviously Im still not where I want to be, but Im just working hard on it every day.
Noah, who confirmed he expects to come back by the teams first game after the All-Star Game (Feb. 23 at Toronto), says that his conditioning is improving and hes starting to regain his shooting touch.
Its not great, but Ive been working hard at it every day, so I think Ill be ready to get back on the court, said Noah, who often works out on the court before games under the watchful eye of Bulls assistant coach Rick Brunson, prompting All-Star point guard Derrick Rose to say the coaches are working him like a horse.
The Tornado his unique shooting form is coming back in full effect.
Still, he isnt completely sure what his immediate impact will be, although his high energy level, hustle, defensive prowess and knack for rebounding should ensure he benefits the team, even if his offensive game is slow to return.
Ive never been out that long, but Im working as hard as I can and when Im out there, Im going to give 150 percent. Well see how it goes, said Noah, who has had the chance to observe the team from a sideline vantage point during his absence. I feel like were a pretty good team and well get better. Well definitely get better. We have a lot of things to improve on and well see where it takes us.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been pleased with the centers progress.
Hes doing great. Yesterday, he went through virtually the entire practice. Hes pain-free, still working on his timing, which is to be expectedgetting bumped a little bit; its body-on-body nowso thats the next phase of his rehab. Hes shooting the ball well from 15, 17 feet, going through all his post-up moves. Hes coming along very well, explained the coach Saturday morning. He hasnt done live scrimmaging yet, but theres parts of practice that are somewhat more halfcourt, where youre structuring body-on-body, pick-and-roll defense, different defensive coverages and things like that. So, hes been cleared to do that, but he hasnt been cleared yet to do the scrimmaging part, which would probably be the next step for him.
Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi has laid out is a plan for progression, so he cleared him for some contact and the next phase will be the total live contact, he continued. Hes been very engaged. Hes done a lot of conditioning, hes come early to stay with the offense and sort of walk through things there, so hes been working on that and then hes done a lot of post work with his left hand and things of that nature.
Hes done a good job with that and then of course, the past few weeks, hes a little bit more. I think the big thing is, once he starts playing, how long will he be able to sustain a high level of play? I think thatll come quickly. I think what he has done is hes done a great job of his conditioning, so hes done as much as he could possibly do.
Thibodeau added that he doesnt expect the teams game plan to be drastically altered with Noahs return, although his presence would certainly help.
Its not going to change a lot. I think itll change from an energy standpoint. I think extra possessions, great offensive rebounding and playmaking ability. I think when teams are trying to get the ball out of Derricks hands, he has the ability to make good decisions with the ball.
Rose, however, believes that the charismatic center will aid the Bulls in getting back to playing more in transition, as he is more fleet of foot than 38-year-old big man Kurt Thomas, Noahs replacement.
Its going to be more of an up-tempo type of game. With Kurt, youve got to slow things down a little bit. You cant keep running up and down with him, but hes been doing a great job for us, said Rose. Joakim, when he comes back, I think well be getting more easy points and fast-break points.
At the same time, Rose is keeping hisand the teamspriorities in check with only three games to go before time off (if not for him, then the rest of the squad) and the second half of the season.
If we finish everything right, well have a lot of confidence before the All-Star break. Everybodys getting ready for that, but weve just got to stay focused, knowing that weve got three games left and weve got to keep balling until that time comes.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.