Joakim Noah’s hamstring will keep him out of the Bulls’ season finale against the Atlanta Hawks, but he’ll be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs this weekend.
“Just a little hamstring issue,” Noah said. “I just gotta be careful. I’m doing all the treatment to get myself as ready as possible.”
It’s clearly a precautionary measure, as the Bulls actually seem to have most of their impact players rounding into good health at the start of the postseason.
Derrick Rose is looking healthier than expected in his return from knee surgery, and although Taj Gibson is “nicked up” along with Kirk Hinrich being out for his second straight game with a hyperextension of the left knee, there seems to be more optimism about the overall health of the club, Noah’s injury notwithstanding.
“Happened about a week ago and got progressively worse,” Noah said. “Just using this time to do all the rehab and all the things necessary to be ready for the playoffs.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah’s hamstring improved markedly from where it was a few days ago, which caused him to miss Monday’s game in Brooklyn. He was a late scratch in that one, and there was concern the injury was in Noah’s knee, but that speculation seems to be false.
“I guess it’s ... the way it was explained to me it’s tendinitis,” Thibodeau said. “I think it’s part of the hamstring that’s connected. Hopefully he’ll be fine.”
Thibodeau tried to downplay the prospect of Noah having his playing time restricted once the playoffs begin, as this has been a constant source of controversy all season.
“I think he’ll be fine. We’ll leave it at that,” Thibodeau said. “I do expect him to play (this weekend). He said he’s feeling a lot better today. I want it to clear up. I don’t want to read into it too much.”
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With a win, the Bulls could nail down the third seed, clinching a matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. If they lose and Toronto beats Charlotte at home, the Bulls will face a much more seasoned opponent, the same Washington Wizards who ousted the Bulls from the first round last season in five games.
“This is an important game but it’s not gonna make or break us,” Noah said. “We’re just trying to stay focused. I can see it in everybody’s faces everybody’s on it. Everybody’s focused. It’s what it’s all about.”
Looking ahead, though, a series with the Bucks could be followed by one with the Cleveland Cavaliers, so winning tonight could be viewed as a double entendre.
“I want us to be playing well,” Thibodeau said. "I want us to put as many things in our favor as we can. But the most important thing is playing well. We want to be healthy.
“Wherever we end up, we’re going to make the best of those circumstances, wherever it is. Just keep improving. Concentrate on that. Don’t get wrapped up in the what ifs and all that other stuff. Just keep improving.”