Joakim Noah went through a full practice Thursday after missing Monday’s game in Philadelphia, putting him on track to being available Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.
Noah was a last-second scratch when his surgically repaired left knee prevented him from making his first start of the season. It should be noted the surprise start wasn’t announced until right before gametime.
“He was a little bit sore at the beginning, but he was able to get himself loose and make it through the whole practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Barring any kind of setback, hopefully we’ll have him in the lineup tomorrow.’’
After the mini-controversy surrounding the longtime starter going to the bench, Monday represented a possible change in his philosophy, at least giving the chance of a Noah-Pau Gasol frontcourt partnership to work.
“Yeah, we would’ve considered it long-term,” Hoiberg said. “And obviously we’ve changed a couple things early in the season with Doug (McDermott) not starting and bringing Tony (Snell) off the bench. I think both guys have done very well with those new roles. If we do end up going to that at some time, we’ll see how it goes for the guys who have their roles changed.”
That evaluation now appears to be on hold, at least momentarily, because of Noah’s knee and the long-term look Hoiberg and the staff is going to take, not dissimilar from the minutes’ restrictions he had placed on him last season by the medical staff, much to the chagrin of then-coach Tom Thibodeau.
“You have to be cognizant. That’s the first I guess setback he’s had,” Hoiberg said. “He had the, you know, kind of scary fall in a preseason game in Boulder, sat a few preseason games from that, but didn’t have any types of issues.
“The other day against Philly was the first time that he’s had any real pain where he has come to us, come to the trainers and talked about it. So hopefully it’s a one-time deal, it’s over with. Do you have to be careful with minutes? Yeah, you probably do throughout the early part of this season and see how everything works out, but he said he’s feeling 100 percent better than he was in Philly.”
With center Al Jefferson being the hub of the Hornets offense, Noah in theory would’ve been the perfect elixir to his low-post game—or at least the most-equipped defender on the roster.
With Marvin Williams starting at power forward for the Hornets, and swingman Paul George at least beginning games that way for the Indiana Pacers, one wouldn’t expect the Bulls to put Gasol against those unconventional lineups, meaning Nikola Mirotic will remain as the starting power forward—although it wouldn’t be surprising for Hoiberg to switch up the lineup against the Pacers because they play so small.
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In any event, Mirotic’s 20-point, 10-rebound game was needed in the worst way Monday against the 76ers. Who knows how much Noah’s play factored into Hoiberg’s decision as opposed to Mirotic’s struggles before Monday’s game. Mirotic totaled 11 points and 12 rebounds in the three previous games before breaking out.
“Well, I’ll say this: It was great to see Niko go out and play with that kind of confidence,” Hoiberg said. “In the second half especially, I thought he was very aggressive in going out and looking for his shot. Missed a few early on, and he’s a couple very good practices since then. The way (Charlotte) starts, they start Marvin Williams at the four, we’ll most likely go with Niko at the start of the game and then we’ll evaluate things after.”