Bulls

Noah needs surgery, could miss 10 weeks

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Noah needs surgery, could miss 10 weeks

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010
Posted 7:49 PM Updated 11:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

TORONTO Perhaps Taj Gibson summed it up best: It seems like we just cant get a break.

Thats even more fitting since Gibson will be one of the Bulls most responsible for filling in for Joakim Noah, as the charismatic center is slated for surgery on a torn ligament in his right thumb Thursday, as first reported Tuesday night by the Chicago Tribune.

Im not playing at a high level. Its hurting, said a dejected Noah after Wednesdays 110-93 Bulls win over the Raptors. Ive got to take anti-inflammatories every time I play. I cant practice. I have to get right and get back to this team.

Im going to miss playing with the guys. Its frustrating because I think we have a chance to be really, really good and Ive never been in a situation where were winning like this, but I know that in the long run, this is what needs to be done, continued Noah, who noted that he had the same surgery on his left hand while in high school. It sucks. Its not what I wantIve been playing through it for a couple weeks now and Ive got to get back to playing at a high level.

Noah, who recorded a typical double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday night the teams medical staff determined before the game that he could do no further damage by playing reportedly could miss 10 weeks of action for the Bulls, who are currently on a seven-game winning streak.

Joakims injury presentation was unusual in that he was able to function at a high level with the injury. More often, athletes are unable to play at all due to pain and instability of the thumb, said Brian Cole, the Bulls team doctor.

Added Bulls general manager Gar Forman: As the days proceeded from the original injury, it became clear for all that surgery was best for Joakim.

We have always valued Joakims toughness and willingness to put the team above himself, but in this case his health took precedence.

Noah has also been dealing with sprains in his right index and middle fingers. Since the initial injury, which first occurred in the Bulls Nov. 27 win in Sacramento, Noah has been in discomfort and has noticeably struggled with his underrated shooting and ball skills, although hes still made an impact with his energy, defense and rebounding ability.

First of all, not being able to practice. Not being able to shoot, use my right hand as much as I want, said Noah of how the injury has affected him. Every time I pass, every time I dribble, it hurts.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, while obviously not pleased that Noah will miss extended time, is optimistic that the team will survive in his absence.

Its disappointing for Jo, but for us, were confident in the ability of the guys that we have. We have more than enough to win with. Taj has played extremely well for us. Kurt has played well for us. Luol has played well at the four, so we have a number of players that can step up Omer so we keep moving, said Thibodeau, who told reporters that he hasnt settled on Noahs replacement yet.

Were looking at whats best for him right now and I think, long-term, its the right decision. Its unfortunate, but thats a part of the game. Guys get hurt and when theyre injured and they need surgery, they have to do itwere confident that we have more than enough to win with.

One through 14, I have a lot of confidence in all the guys and when you look at our bench, we have several players who have started a number of games in this league, Thibodeau went on to say. If you look at last year, what Kurt did in Milwaukee when he was called upon, he stays ready, so you always have confidence in his ability and I think what he also does is he gives you a tremendous low-post defender and he gives you a pick-and-pop player in the pick-and-roll, which will add to what Derrick is doing out there.

Taj has played extremely well, so his minutes will be increased. I was trying to figure out a way to get him more minutes. I like Lu at the four. You cant say enough about what Lu has done this year. Hes played the two, the three, the four, hes guarded all those positions, hes made a lot of big plays for us, a lot of intangibles, he gets to loose balls, he rebounds. So, his minutes will go back up also.

Of Noahs potential replacements, Gibson is most familiar with filling in for his teammates, having done so when ex-Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas missed time early last season and stepping in for Carlos Boozer to start this campaign.

It seems like we just cant get a break. As soon as I got into the league, Tyrus got hurt. This year, we were expected to come in so fired up, then Booz got hurt. Now, Joakim, one of the vocal leaders of this team, goes down. Its a lot for a team to go through, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. It just prepares guys. Like Coach says, guys are just going to have to step up. Omers going to have to play big. Even me, Ill play big once again. But were optimistic, we know whats ahead of us, and guys are ready to step in.

We should be able to replace Noahs energy, but it happens first in practice. It happens with guys getting each other better. Were going to have to step up and just man up. Were trying to go deep in the playoffs this year and be one of the top teams in the East, he continued. Were confident. We have to be confident. Whenever you feel down, somebodys going to knock you down again and try to keep you down. You have to keep being optimistic, keep your head up and keep going.

Kurt Thomas, who filled in for Bucks star center Andrew Bogut at the end of last season, as Milwaukee almost upset the Atlanta Hawks, in the first round of the playoffs, is also accustomed to substituting for key players.

Im just going to go out there and do my job when my numbers called. Thats what Ive been doing my whole career. Just go out there and play, said Thomas, at 38 one of the leagues oldest players. I havent been out there with those guys really yet, but when were in practice, its a lot of fun. We compete against each other, but Im definitely looking forward to going out there on the floor. Ive just got to wait until he Thibodeau calls my number.

Injuries are a part of the game. Ive definitely had my share of injuries over my career and when the opportunitys there, youve just got to take advantage of it, go out there and compete, play both ends of the floor just continue to do what Ive been doing my whole career.

Noahs fellow team captains are saddened by his injury, but believe the Bulls will be able to keep their current momentum going even without their man in the middle.

Its going to be tough. Weve got a lot of guys in the locker room that can step up, but Jo is a big piece of what were trying to do. Hes a big piece of our team every night, so its just going to be an adjustment every night and its something that he needs to get better. Weve got to. Weve got no choice. Its tough to replace Joguys that werent playing much minutes are going to have to step up, Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com.

You never want to go through it, but youve got to take the positives out of every situation. I know its going to be tough on Jo to sit out, but hes got to understand that he needs to and weve got bigger goals right now to have him play with an injury like that, and not helping us later on. Just take care of the problem and well do the best we can until he gets back, and well be a better team when he gets back.

I have total confidence in the guys that we have in this locker room. We showed it before with Boozer being out and even when Derrick missed that one game, we had guys step back. You dont want to be in that situation, but its not the worst thing ever.

Boozer, who missed the first two months of the season after suffering a broken fifth metacarpal during training camp, especially sympathizes with Noahs plight.

I just told him to keep his head up. Obviously I started the season with something similar. Mine was a bone, his was a ligament. I told him well try to hold it down for him. Weve got guys that are going to have to step up big. Taj Gibson is capable of it, big Omer is capable of it and myself, as well, so weve all got to step up in his absence, said Boozer.

Im going to tell you: Hes a warrior for playing through it for two or three weeks. Youve got to take your hat off to him for giving up his hand for us for as long as he has.

Obviously wed rather be playing with Jo. Let me make that point clear: Wed rather have Jo out there. But we know hes got to take care of his hand for the long run. We want him healthy 100 percent healthy come playoff time, and weve got to hold it down without him. Weve got to step up and play great without Jo out there. Weve got confidence in the guys that are going to be playing in his absence, but we also wish him a speedy recovery, he added.

We knew a few days ago, but he wanted to play tonight and he did a great jobhes a warrior and hes been that way since Ive been here. Hes been like that since before I got here, so again I say we take our hats off to him for playing through the pain he has for the last two or three weeks. We wish him a speedy recovery to get back because were going to need him down the stretch.

Derrick Rose, who came into Wednesdays game as a major injury concern himself, expressed confidence that the Bulls would be able to ride out the storm without Noah.

Its going to hurt us, but as a team, I think that well continue to play hard and theres no excuses in this league. Weve still got to go out here and play these games, said Rose, who played through soreness in his right elbow and hip in the aftermath of an injury scare Monday night. The people thats coming in for him, theyre going to have to ball, period. Youre going to have to come in and give us the energy that he was giving us.

Its hard replacing Joakim. Booz, we never really got a chance to play with him until now, so we didnt have time to just replace him like thatbut just losing Jo just out of nowhere, its going to be tough, he continued. Just his energy and what he brings to the game, its going to be different.

Its going to be hard, but I think our confidence is up right now and the way were playing basketball, I think our defense will have to carry us throughout the whole time that hes out.

Noah, who is averaging 14.2 points (on 51.1 percent field-goal shooting), 11.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 blocked shots and 1.2 steals per game, will have Thursdays surgery performed at Rush University Medical Center. The Bulls will hold an afternoon press conference, during which Forman and team trainer Fred Tedeschi will address the media.

Well be fine. Were very good, we have a great team and thats whats frustrating, not being able to play with these guys, said Noah before the Bulls departed Toronto and headed back to the Windy City. Ive had a little time to think about whether I was going to get the surgery or not, but I think its the right thing to do.

I spoke to my family and decided its the best thing to do right now. I got a lot of support from my teammates and the coaching staff, and Pax Bulls executive John Paxson and Gar. Theyre behind me and I think this team, obviously has a lot of potential and in the long run, could be something special.

With the goal in mind to make it back for that aforementioned something special rather than jeopardize his season in the middle of a hot streak, Noahs team-first mentality has never been more evident.

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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.