Bulls

Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown

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Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown

When Joakim Noah exited Saturday nights Bulls 85-82 overtime home loss to the Grizzlies at the 5:53 mark of the third quarter, a reasonable assumption was that he would return later in the period.
When that didnt happen, as a unit featuring Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer up front thrived, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus decision to ride that group made sense, especially as the home team made a fourth quarter push. Still, whether it was to give Boozer or Gibson a break, add some length on the defensive end, an additional rebounding presence, an offensive playmaker or simply some fresh legs, as time went by in the final stanza, it was puzzling that Noah remained glued to the bench.
But it could be overlooked as the Bulls clawed their way back into the contest and sent the game into an extra session, as nobody could argue that whatever magic the quintet on the court which also included backup point guard Nate Robinson, reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler, who replaced the injured Luol Deng in the starting lineup had, it was working. However, when Gibson fouled out of the game with 39.1 seconds remaining in overtime and Thibodeau inserted backup center Nazr Mohammed, who hadnt played a minute all evening, it was clear that something was up.
More: Bulls lose to Grizzlies at home in overtime
Just a coachs decision, Thibodeau explained afterwards, before confirming that Noah, who scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the opening period, had no health issues. Hes fine.
Noah wasnt around in the locker room to give his take on the situation, but the strong-willed center and the strong-willed coach, who both want to win as badly as any two people youll come across in the NBA, clearly dont see eye-to-eye. It might not be a lingering situation, as theyre both more concerned with on-court success than dragging out any perceived player-coach feud, but it wasnt the first, nor will it be the last time Thibodeau sits a key player for an extended amount of time, nor was Noah expressing his frustration during the course of a game, as was witnessed Saturday, an anomaly.
Hes done that before with other guys, Carlos Boozer, himself someone who knows all too well that Thibodeau will sit any player remember Derrick Rose, albeit coming back from injury, getting benched in favor of a hot-shooting C.J. Watson, in a home win over Miami last season, let alone Gibson and the departed Omer Asik playing ahead of Boozer and Noah? said. When a team is rolling, he keeps that team in there. That was the case tonight. We fought back and he just left that group in.
Related: Butler impressive in first career start
Taj Gibson chimed in: You never really know. Thibs just wants effort. Theres no excuses. Youve just got to go out there and do your job. Thats the one thing about our team. Were not an excuse kind of team. Were not going to act that way because we understand that it takes all of us as a whole to get through and make it to the playoffs. Its just one game. Theres plenty more games to go. I know were a team. Were sticking together.
I thought Noah was just so amped up to play in the game, but youve just got to go with whatever Thibodeau feels and learn from it, and keep pushing. I think Joakims been doing a great job all year long and hes going to continue to learn from this game, and keep pushing, he continued. It just didnt go his way a couple of times, a couple bad calls. But its not about him getting frustrated. He has to keep working through it. Thats with me being his teammate and I know thats what the rest of us are going to say. Weve just got to keep working our way through it and hold him down.
Between me, him, Carlos and Nazr, we all talk on the bench and tell him to stay with the same mentality. Just keep being aggressive, play your game, dont worry about the refs and just do your job. Youre doing a phenomenal job. No matter how many bad calls you get, youve just got to keep playing.
Noahs teammates arent concerned because behind the scenes, theyve seen this occur before, an inevitability with people as passionate as Noah and Thibodeau. But Saturday night, due to the Bulls loss to an excellent Memphis team, playing without their leading scorer in Deng and in their third consecutive overtime game, the first time thats happened to an NBA team since the 2006-07 campaign it will be magnified, for all the wrong reasons.
However, what can be examined is Thibodeaus praise of the group that led the Bulls ultimately-failed comeback. Obviously not all of the following can be attributed to Noah, but in typical Thibodeau fashion, a subliminal message can be parsed.
The hole got bigger and the group that went in there sort of battled back, so we were just riding it out, seeing if we could find a way to creep back into it and have a chance to win it in the end, the coach said. We have to be better, were capable of doing better and that being said, all it came down to was we had to make a free throw.
Just the spirit of the group, the fight, guarded people, organized. We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in and thats the way they play credit to them and you have to stay disciplined. You cant allow frustration to take you away from what youre trying to get done out there. Its one of those things where youve got to keep battling and battling and battling. In the end, whatevers necessary, thats what you have to do to win. You have to get in the fight, its physical and you cant get thrown around. When youre getting smacked, you still have to get your job done, Thibodeau continued. You name it. No defense, turnovers, poor execution. One thing led to another. Floor balance. When we made them feel our pressure, they had a hard time and when they made us feel their pressure, we have to respond better.
Knowing Noah, whether those words are delivered to him verbatim or not probably not, knowing Thibodeau, who uses much saltier language behind closed doors the message will be received and because of the centers unique motor, in the end, things will take a turn for the better very soon. Because when it comes to two competitors like the center and his coach, things might not always be rosy, but they both desire the same results.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.