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Bulls: Joakim Noah prognosis 'tough on everybody right now'

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Bulls: Joakim Noah prognosis 'tough on everybody right now'

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

"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.

[MORE: What's next for Joakim Noah, Bulls after season-ending surgery]

"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."

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.