DEERFIELD, ILL.—When it rains, it pours, when it comes to the Bulls and their long list of ailments.
After subsiding enough for him to play in Sunday night’s loss at Detroit, All-Star center Joakim Noah’s ongoing bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot has returned.
“Jo had a little bit of a setback,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Monday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center.
Noah had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes of action against the Pistons and afterward, he seemed optimistic about playing through the injury.
[RELATED: Bulls fall to Pistons in Noah's return]
According to Thibodeau, however, the center experienced pain in his right foot Monday, and moving forward, his status is uncertain.
“He actually felt very good last night,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to play who is injured. At this time of the year, there are a lot of guys that are hurting that will play, but if a guy is injured we don’t want him out there.’’
“There’s always concern, but he just has to keep working at it,” Thibodeau continued. “That’s what he’s supposed to do, he’s a pro. A pro has the responsibility to do everything he can, do come back as quick as you can. But as I mentioned, we don’t want anyone playing who is injured. Got to keep plugging away at it.
“It’s a tough one. You never really know with that type of injury,” the coach went on to say. “The good thing about it is this: We’ve dealt with injuries throughout the year. So I think we have a good handle on it in terms of when one guy is out another guy has to step up and get the job done. Derrick’s been out all year, so we had to deal with that. Then Joakim has been out for a good segment, then other guys along the way. Whoever we have that’s who we’re going with. We have more than enough to win. Obviously we’re disappointed with the way we played last night, but we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.’’
Belinelli battling to regain rhythm
On a more positive note, some of Noah’s fellow walking wounded are making gradual progress.
Belinelli, who also returned to the lineup Sunday after missing seven consecutive games with an abdominal strain, is playing through pain—after the game, he claimed that the injury wasn’t re-aggravated when he took a shot from Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, but he acknowledged feeling the after-effects Monday—but is simply happy with being back on the court.
“It was okay. Now, I can feel it a little bit. That’s okay. That’s part of the game. You just have to go through and I just need to do my job, my work. I’ve got treatment right now and rest, and get ready for the next one,” Belinelli said. “I can still feel it a little bit, especially in the morning. But I think we’ve got like five, six more games in the season. We’ve got to play, so I think I’m going to play with a little bit of pain. But that’s part of the game. I just need to do my treatment, do my work, try to feel better every day and try to do my best every game.”
Belinelli was scoreless in 20 minutes of play Sunday—he was on a minutes restriction—but hopes to find a rhythm before the postseason.
“I need [to find a rhythm before the playoffs],” he said. “Yesterday, I didn’t play well, so I just need to go on the court, play, run, try to have the ball in my hands and be aggressive like before, so I need that.”
Thibodeau was forced to start the smallish backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson against Detroit and while the duo fared well initially, the combination of injuries and an altered rotation wasn’t to the coach’s liking.
“It changed what we did when we subbed. Actually they started fine. The first quarter was pretty good until we broke the lineup. But then that’s when everything changed. And that’s what I mean when we changed two different groups. That’s what I didn’t like. I thought we had a pretty good rhythm the way we were before that. Because Nate, the way it was structured before, we took advantage of Nate’s scoring. When Kirk came back in Nate could go to the 2. It’s something we’ll look at,” he explained.
“It was an unusual game. In hindsight I would have done some things differently. We made a lot of changes, probably too many changes in terms of units together. So it wasn’t very smooth and I probably could have minimized it doing something different so we’ll see as we go forward. We had two guys coming in and one going out and then I changed both units. It’s hard to get your rhythm, although whatever the unit is, we have to find that rhythm. When you’re dealing with change it’s how quickly you can adapt to that change that really matters. I’m expecting us to do a lot better tomorrow.”
Belinelli being able to play extended minutes would give the Bulls more a conventional lineup—Jimmy Butler will again likely fill in for Luol Deng at small forward Sunday, while Nazr Mohammed should replace Noah in the starting lineup, assuming the two All-Stars don’t play in Tuesday’s home game against Toronto—but in the event that in the near future, the Bulls don’t have close to a full complement of players, Thibodeau insists that they’ll manage.
“We’ll see. Again, ideally you’d like to know who you have each and every game but that’s not the case so whatever the case is, we’ll deal with it and find a group to get it done,” Thibodeau said. “Well, you’re also dealing with the minutes thing so that’s part of the equation. So there are a lot of variables that go into it.”
As far as Belinelli’s medical limitations being lifted, the coach said, “That’s Fred [Tedeschi, the Bulls’ head trainer] and the doctor. Whenever we get into minutes restrictions, that’s their call. Whatever they decide is best, that’s what we go with.
Belinelli chimed in: “Oh, I don’t know. I think that’s up to me. Yesterday, I was feeling pretty good. I was a little bit tired on the court, but I think game by game, I hope I can be better, so maybe more minutes and of course, I need to play better.”
Team on the mend as playoffs approach
Deng, who is nursing a right-hip injury, was “a little better” Monday, Thibodeau claimed, while top reserve Taj Gibson, who has a left-knee sprain, could return to the lineup this week.
“He’s doing a lot better, too,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully at some point this week.’’
[RELATED: Thibodeau laments Deng's absence in loss to Pistons]
While the session was light, another good sign was Rip Hamilton, who has been out since February with a bulging disk in his back, doing more activity and staying late to do extra drills with the coaching staff.
Thibodeau said the veteran shooting guard “did everything,” though the practice “wasn’t physical.”
“Film, shooting, some offensive stuff, just trying to clean things up,” the coach explained.
The one injured player for whom there isn’t even a rough timetable for is obviously Rose, who threw down some vintage explosive dunks during pregame warmups Sunday and while “he’s doing fine,” Thibodeau said, “he’s not quite there yet.”
With just six regular-season games remaining, Thibodeau wants to keep the focus on the Raptors—he wouldn’t even fully admit to more intensive scouting of potential postseason opponents—and not the team’s myriad injuries or when any particular player will return to the floor.
“We’re just worried about our improvement, correcting things, understanding either why we have won or lost, trying to make the necessary corrections, get ready for the next opponent, and I think if you focus that way, when you ultimately get there that will prepare you the best,” he said. ““Prior to last night, the previous eight games, I thought that was our best stretch of basketball throughout the course of the season, so that was the good thing. Obviously we’re very disappointed with the way we played last night, but the previous eight games we played very good basketball. So we’re more than capable and we’ve got to get it right.’’
Belinelli concurred: “I think right now, we don’t think about that. We just think that we need to play the best we can with the guys we have on the court, so if we’re going to be with Jo, with Derrick, who knows that? But we just need to go on the court and play our game.”