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Joakim Noah outshines Dwight Howard in big-man battle

Who's the better big man?




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Updated: March 13, 2014 11:12PM



The debate is over.

Somewhere between Joakim Noah stripping the ball from Dwight Howard after the Houston Rockets big man ripped down a rebound in the second quarter and Noah throwing a pinpoint bounce pass to Jimmy Butler on a back-cut for an easy basket late in the third, all the talk about which team has the best center in the NBA should have ended.

As the 111-87 victory over the Rockets on Thursday showed, that center resides in Chicago.

Behind 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Noah was one pass shy of his fourth triple-double of the season, and more importantly, was a plus-24 in the plus/minus category.

Howard? He finished with 12 points, 10 rebound, seven turnovers, was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, and the team was a minus-28 with the center on the floor.

Any questions?

“Noah is great,’’ Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “Especially after the [Luol] Deng trade, it seems like Noah has played with such high intensity. They’ve got that us-against-the-world attitude, which is the best thing that can happen to them because it forces you to find a way, and they do.

“They’ve been winning a lot of games just alone on his grit and toughness.’’

McHale went as far as to say that he felt Noah should win Defensive Player of the Year when the regular-season awards are handed out.

All nice compliments, but the fact that the Bulls are 36-29 is all that concerns Noah.

“Every game is important right now,’’ Noah said. “You want to play against the best to see where you stand.’’

Where the Bulls stand is holding down that fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding and beating Houston (44-21), a team that had won its last eight games.

Sure, the 14-for-24 shooting from beyond the three-point line for the Bulls was key, as was Butler handcuffing James Harden to just eight points. But all eyes were on Noah and Howard, who go about their craft as differently as two centers can.

“They’re two different players, they run two different offenses,’’ the Bulls’ Taj Gibson said. “Dwight is power-post, Joakim can post a little bit, shoot, dribble, pass. Joakim has the whole package right now, and his game is only going to get better.”

Noah wasn’t the only one bringing it all to the court, evident by the fact that Mike Dunleavy needed 10 stitches above his right eye after taking a Chandler Parsons elbow. He returned to score 21 second-half points and even took a charge.

Just more of that grit that McHale was talking about.

“They kicked our [butt] in every aspect of the game,’’ McHale said. “They kicked our [butt] up one side of the court and down the other.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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