Joakim Noah was going through extra shooting after the Bulls’ morning shootaround, and it seems to appear likely he’ll return next week from his shoulder strain that’s caused him to miss the last seven games.
Noah will miss Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, but Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is optimistic that when the schedule gets more strenuous over the next couple of weeks, he’ll have Noah ready.
“He’s out tonight and then Saturday, right now, he’s 50-50 at best I’d say,” said Hoiberg, referring to Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. “Hopefully, we’ll get him for next week for sure, back for that four-in-five-nights stretch.”
Starting next Monday, the Bulls have a four-game in five-night stretch and later, starting Jan. 20 with a home game against the Golden State Warriors, starts a three-game in four-night stretch that ends in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
And when Noah returns, it leaves Hoiberg with the same quandary he started the season with: finding minutes for rookie Bobby Portis. But in this instance, Portis won’t be going back to the bench, as he’s earned his increased playing time.
“Obviously, Bobby is still going to play. There’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “He’s too important for us right now to go back to the way it was. A big part of that is getting Niko (Mirotic) some experience at the small forward spot. He looks pretty good with that lineup. So we’ll stick with that starting group.”
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Hoiberg will go back to mixing and matching with the second group, as one wonders how much time will be available for the likes of Mirotic, who’s now starting, along with Tony Snell and Doug McDermott—each of whom have had his moments in this impressive five-game stretch.
But keeping the energetic Portis on the floor along with a defensive force and offensive initiator like Noah gives Hoiberg comfort, and plenty of options.
“Pretty good. Jo with his role as a playmaker with that second group, being our second leading assist player, you can run things through Jo,” Hoiberg said. “Bobby is versatile enough where he can score from the outside if Jo gets by his man, even dribble-handoff type actions.
“It’s just a little different dynamic when Jo is out there because he’s such a unique player because you can put the ball in his hands.”
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He’s had to fiddle with his rotation all season based on matchups, and hasn’t had to worry much about players griping—with the rotation, at least. Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore can have big roles in wins one night, and sit the next game with the understanding their time will come again.
“It’s just being ready. I talked to them. They understand,” Hoiberg said. “They’re ready to go when their name is called upon. I almost put Cam (Bairstow) in the game when I took Taj (Gibson) out early and Pau (Gasol) picked up his second. I’m confident if Cam is called upon, he’s going to go to do a good job for us. It’s the reality of the situation with our group. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play.”