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Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer are thriving for Bulls

Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) forward Carlos Boozer have become quite tandem this season. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) and forward Carlos Boozer have become quite a tandem this season. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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The facts: 7, CSN, ESPN, 1000-AM.

Updated: January 11, 2013 2:19PM

Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t exactly fall under the category of a smiler.

So to get him to actually have a laugh, well, good luck.

How about mentioning that when the Bulls signed forward Carlos Boozer before the 2010-11 season the theory was that Boozer and center Joakim Noah couldn’t coexist.

“I’ve been laughing all along because I look at the winning percentage when the two play together,’’ Thibodeau said. “To me, that’s how you measure guys.’’

There have been growing pains along the way. In their first season together, both were hampered by injuries. Last season, the NBA lockout and some more bumps and bruises slowed the progression. But this season, the Bulls are finally starting to see what the Noah-Boozer combination can do with significant minutes.

“It’s always great to silence your critics, but obviously there is a bigger picture,’’ Noah said. “There’s more to just silencing the critics who said we couldn’t play together. He wants to win, I want to win, and you usually answer those questions at the end of the year. It’s not because we played well against Cleveland [earlier in the week] or we won a game against Miami in the regular season that we’re going to silence those critics. It’s more about what we do at the end of the year.’’

Good points. But judging the two in the regular season is the only available option now.

Noah has been as consistent as any frontcourt player on the Bulls after spending the offseason getting his ankle healthy and his body in shape. Even on nights when Noah doesn’t score, he contributes offensively as one of the best passing big men in the league, averaging 4.3 assists to lead all centers.

Boozer’s last six games are what Bulls fans have been hoping to see since he came to Chicago. He averaged 23 points and 11.8 rebounds with six straight double-doubles.

In scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds in the victory over the Heat one game after he put up 31 and 11 against the Magic, Boozer became the first Bull since Michael Jordan to score at least 27 points and grab 11 rebounds in back-to-back games.

When Noah and Boozer have double-doubles in the same game, the Bulls are 11-1 the last three seasons.

The critics have gone silent lately.

“[Boozer is] playing great basketball for us,’’ Noah said. “It’s not about double-doubles; it’s about our team. But if Carlos keeps playing like this, we have to play off of him. He’s a handful down there, so it’s on us to get it to him. But he and I know that we can still play better.’’

Personal stats mean very little to Boozer.

“I don’t care about that,’’ Boozer said when asked about the double-doubles. “I just want to get wins.’’

Maybe the fan criticism of Boozer will cease. After getting knocked out of the Eastern Conference finals by the Heat two years ago, Boozer became everyone’s favorite scapegoat. Thibodeau has defended him the entire time.

“When you look at him at the end of every season against other power forwards, he’s always at the top,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s getting more opportunities lately because people are searching him out. The defense is telling us he’s open, and the core guys have been together for three years now, so they know how to play off each other better.’’

As long as Boozer stays this hot, Noah plans to ride it out.

“He looks very comfortable out there, and we kind of understand where he wants the ball,’’ Noah said. “Booze is just killing it in the paint. That’s a sign of good things for this team.’’

Obviously. It even got a laugh out of Thibodeau.

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