Though the Bulls went 7-2 without Joakim Noah earlier in the year, Fred Hoiberg acknowledged the differences this time around.
The Bulls announced late Saturday that Noah, who separated his left shoulder Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks, will require surgery that will keep him sidelined four to six months. And while the Bulls are familiar with not having Noah in the lineup - he missed nine games with a strained left shoulder - the reality that the emotional leader's season is likely over has been difficult for the Bulls.
"It’s tough. He’s such a passionate kid. He’s a big-time leader of this team. He gives so much energy," Fred Hoiberg said Sunday at the Advocate Center. "Even when he wasn’t playing he was always keeping guys’ spirits up being around here. And I know he’ll continue to do that. I feel bad, the fact that he’s going to have to have a surgical procedure to fix this. But at the end of the day Jo’s going to be fine.
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"But it's tough on everybody right now."
Noah wasn't in attendance at practice Sunday and is still seeking opinions on who will perform the surgery, so no timetable has been set for his rehabilitation. Hoiberg said Noah is expected to make a full recovery once the surgery is performed. Both Hoiberg and center Pau Gasol said the team has been messaging Noah, and the hope is his injury won't result in an emotional hangover like the one the team suffered Friday night, scoring 77 points in a home loss to the Mavericks.
"We had some of that," Hoiberg said. "You could see it in the second half, just seeing Jo at halftime. He was obviously very down and our guys, each one of them went in and talked to him. Hopefully you get that out of the way and now you can focus at the task at hand."
They won't have any time to let up with a difficult stretch in front of them that includes 10 of their next 12 on the road, and six of the next seven against teams with winning records.
"We have a tough stretch coming up, we understand that," Gasol said. "A lot of difficult games, but we have played better when the challenge has been bigger. So let’s see if we can dig in and all work as a unit and really take this challenge as an opportunity to prove what we’re made of and how far we can get."
Hoiberg acknowledged that rookie Bobby Portis will have an increased role in Noah's absence. When Noah missed nine games between December and January, the Bulls' first round pick showed promise, averaging 7.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. Portis has averaged just 7.4 minutes in the last four games since Noah's return but again will see a considerable jump and be asked to anchor the Bulls' second unit frontcourt. Hoiberg also mentioned that Cam Bairstow and undrafted rookie Cristiano Felicio may also be called upon to eat up minutes. Bairstow has appeared in just eight games, while the 6-foot-10 Felicio has played four minutes in two games while shuffling to and from the D-League.
"I think knowing you’re going to be out there for an extended period probably will help with (consistency). Bobby, again, his minutes have been up and down. Obviously not being in the rotation early and then going out and taking advantage of minutes when a couple guys were out, and now being back in that role," Hoiberg said. "There’s some guys that haven’t really played at all that will need to be ready, and I’m confident those guys will do that.
"Everybody’s got to be ready to fill in for what Jo gave us, which was a lot. Our best low post defender, one of our best playmakers on our team, a guy that always generates ball movement when he’s out on the floor and just passion and energy. And that’s going to have to be picked up by the group collectively, that’s not just one guy."
Mike Dunleavy gets in non-contact work
Mike Dunleavy was seen running at practice Sunday at the Advocate Center. He was also working with assistant coach Jim Boylen on defensive drills for the portion of practice open to the media. And while Hoiberg said Dunleavy still isn't ready for contact, he's pleased with the sharpshooter's progress.
"Mike did some non-contact stuff today. He was out there, did some of our 5-on-0 stuff, some of the defensive shell work, he was out there participating in that," Hoiberg said. "Still no contact for Mike. Hope to get him on the floor doing some contact work in the next couple weeks."
Trade doesn't appear likely for Bulls
Hoiberg said a trade doesn't appear likely for the Bulls in the wake of Noah's injury.
The Bulls were rumored to have been shopping Noah, an unrestricted free agent at season's end, as well as Taj Gibson. And while the team has a need for a wing, losing Noah suddenly thins the frontcourt.
"You’re always listening and making calls," he said, "but I don’t think there’s anything serious out there."