Bulls center Joakim Noah had 10 points, nine rebounds and three assists Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. | Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Updated: December 4, 2013 6:50AM
PHILADELPHIA — Center Joakim Noah’s in-game conditioning is still a work in progress.
But his hatred for 76ers fans is in midseason form.
“It was awhile ago, but I’ll never forget that,’’ Noah said Saturday.
During the 2012 playoff series against Philadelphia, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Game 1, then Noah went down in Game 3 with a badly sprained ankle. Philadelphia fans cheered wildly as Noah was lying on the court in pain.
“That was probably one of my biggest motivations [during the summer], just rehabbing my ankle,’’ Noah said last season. “Before the playoffs started last year, I really felt like we were in position to win the championship. Derrick went down, and it was very hard on the team. Then getting injured, and then just the [Philadelphia] fans, the way they reacted, I used that as motivation.’’
In his three games against the 76ers last season, Noah averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. In a Feb. 28 victory, he had 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks.
He missed all but one game during the preseason because of a groin strain, so Noah’s return to the City of Brotherly Love didn’t result in big numbers (10 points, nine rebounds, three assists).
Despite coach Tom Thibodeau’s concerns, Noah said his conditioning was improving each day.
“I know how hard I worked, so Coach is striving for perfection and knows I’m not 100 percent, so he just wants me to keep grinding, keep working hard, keep doing that,’’ Noah said.
“I’m excited for that opportunity.’’
Playing time for Thibodeau is earned, not given. Four Bulls are still in the process of earning it.
The rotation will stay at nine deep as Marquis Teague, Mike James, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy continue to be spectators.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what’s going to work best,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was one of the disadvantages of not having everyone in the preseason. Pretty much, I know the nine that are going to play initially.’’
There have been a handful of teams rumored to be interested in tanking to better their lottery position, and it’s not a big secret around the league.
“Of course, you hear rumors and stuff in the NBA because I’m in the league,’’ Rose said.
“But I just try to stay away from it and just worry about the Bulls right now.’’