Bulls

Noah progressing, aims for return after break

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Noah progressing, aims for return after break

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
3:28 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEW ORLEANSHeading into the fifth and final game of their current road trip, the Bulls are obviously focused on finishing the five-game swing on a positive notenot only would put them above .500 on the trip, its the teams last contest away from home before All-Star weekendbut even with their tremendous collective focus, its hard not to look toward the future. Specifically, after the aforementioned annual midseason break, when sidelined center Joakim Noah is slated to return to the lineup.

Im very excited. Just working out, got some tape on my hand instead of a cast, can shoot a little bit and get back on the court as soon as I can, said Noah, who can be observed after Bulls practices going up against veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine as he adjusts to taking contact following December surgery on his right thumb, prior to the teams Saturday morning shootaround at New Orleans Arena. Its been good., just getting used to contact again. Obviously Im still not where I want to be, but Im just working hard on it every day.

Noah, who confirmed he expects to come back by the teams first game after the All-Star Game (Feb. 23 at Toronto), says that his conditioning is improving and hes starting to regain his shooting touch.

Its not great, but Ive been working hard at it every day, so I think Ill be ready to get back on the court, said Noah, who often works out on the court before games under the watchful eye of Bulls assistant coach Rick Brunson, prompting All-Star point guard Derrick Rose to say the coaches are working him like a horse.

The Tornado his unique shooting form is coming back in full effect.

Still, he isnt completely sure what his immediate impact will be, although his high energy level, hustle, defensive prowess and knack for rebounding should ensure he benefits the team, even if his offensive game is slow to return.

Ive never been out that long, but Im working as hard as I can and when Im out there, Im going to give 150 percent. Well see how it goes, said Noah, who has had the chance to observe the team from a sideline vantage point during his absence. I feel like were a pretty good team and well get better. Well definitely get better. We have a lot of things to improve on and well see where it takes us.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been pleased with the centers progress.

Hes doing great. Yesterday, he went through virtually the entire practice. Hes pain-free, still working on his timing, which is to be expectedgetting bumped a little bit; its body-on-body nowso thats the next phase of his rehab. Hes shooting the ball well from 15, 17 feet, going through all his post-up moves. Hes coming along very well, explained the coach Saturday morning. He hasnt done live scrimmaging yet, but theres parts of practice that are somewhat more halfcourt, where youre structuring body-on-body, pick-and-roll defense, different defensive coverages and things like that. So, hes been cleared to do that, but he hasnt been cleared yet to do the scrimmaging part, which would probably be the next step for him.

Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi has laid out is a plan for progression, so he cleared him for some contact and the next phase will be the total live contact, he continued. Hes been very engaged. Hes done a lot of conditioning, hes come early to stay with the offense and sort of walk through things there, so hes been working on that and then hes done a lot of post work with his left hand and things of that nature.

Hes done a good job with that and then of course, the past few weeks, hes a little bit more. I think the big thing is, once he starts playing, how long will he be able to sustain a high level of play? I think thatll come quickly. I think what he has done is hes done a great job of his conditioning, so hes done as much as he could possibly do.

Thibodeau added that he doesnt expect the teams game plan to be drastically altered with Noahs return, although his presence would certainly help.

Its not going to change a lot. I think itll change from an energy standpoint. I think extra possessions, great offensive rebounding and playmaking ability. I think when teams are trying to get the ball out of Derricks hands, he has the ability to make good decisions with the ball.

Rose, however, believes that the charismatic center will aid the Bulls in getting back to playing more in transition, as he is more fleet of foot than 38-year-old big man Kurt Thomas, Noahs replacement.

Its going to be more of an up-tempo type of game. With Kurt, youve got to slow things down a little bit. You cant keep running up and down with him, but hes been doing a great job for us, said Rose. Joakim, when he comes back, I think well be getting more easy points and fast-break points.

At the same time, Rose is keeping hisand the teamspriorities in check with only three games to go before time off (if not for him, then the rest of the squad) and the second half of the season.

If we finish everything right, well have a lot of confidence before the All-Star break. Everybodys getting ready for that, but weve just got to stay focused, knowing that weve got three games left and weve got to keep balling until that time comes.

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.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”