Joakim Noah could make his return to the Bulls' rotation Monday night against the Washington Wizards.
The reserve forward, who has missed nine games with a sprained right shoulder, did some on-court work after the Bulls' film session Sunday afternoon at the Advocate Center. He'll go through his usual routine at Monday morning's shootaround before a determination is made, but both Noah and Fred Hoiberg felt confident in the 30-year-old's status.
"Feel good. I’m happy I got to practice a little bit today, play a little 1-on-1, and I’m excited to get back on the court," Noah said.
Noah suffered the injury Dec. 21 in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls' third straight defeat and sixth in their last 10 games at the time. Since then the Bulls have won seven of nine and vaulted to second place in the East; that stretch included a six-game win streak, snapped Saturday in a 120-105 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
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Though no stranger to injuries - he missed 15 games last season - being sidelined the last three weeks took a mental toll on Noah that has him anxious to get back on the floor. Speaking with media briefly Sunday at the Advocate Center, Noah used the word "excited" four times.
"Just being on the bike, (the) side of practice for a couple weeks, it’s as humbling as it gets for a player to be injured," he said. "I think we’ve been playing really good basketball and I want to be able to help our team.
"I’m confident in my shoulder being all right and I’m excited to get back on the court."
How he'll fit into a rotation playing its best basketball of the season is another question. Rookie Bobby Portis saw an uptick in minutes following Noah's injury and played well, averaging 7.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. With Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic already entrenched in their roles, Hoiberg will need to divvy up minutes without upsetting the chemistry of a team playing its best basketball.
But Noah's pending return also comes at a good time, as the Bulls will begin a four-game-in-five-nights stretch Monday night.
"It’s a grind. We’ll find a way to get through it. You got to give your guys rest when you can," Hoiberg said. "Couple guys may enter the rotation and hopefully getting Jo back will help with that. It’s hard but you’ve got to manage those minutes as best you can and just take it one day at a time."