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Joakim Noah leading way, but he spreads around praise

monday

thunder at bulls

The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.

Updated: March 16, 2014 8:25PM



Twice in the last week, Joakim Noah has looked ahead. That’s a no-no for a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.

‘‘I just can’t wait for the playoffs to start,’’ Noah has said.

Maybe it’s because these are the dog days of the NBA schedule or because Noah realizes he and his Bulls teammates are playing as well as they have all season. Either way, with 16 regular-season games left, there seems to be little to be concerned about on the court.

Well, at least by most standards. Call it nitpicking, but the fact the Bulls have been outrebounded in back-to-back games — both victories, by the way — isn’t exactly sitting well with Thibodeau.

‘‘We’ve been a great rebounding team all year,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Usually, we have a number of guys with six or seven [boards]. A few guys get double-digit
rebounds, so we can’t rely on one or two. We need everybody. I think we’re capable of being great with our rebounding.’’

Asked what they can do to get better, Thibodeau said, ‘‘Jump.’’

No one is asking Noah to be any better down the stretch. The way teammate Taj Gibson sees it, Noah is playing the best basketball of his career and the rest of the Bulls are just trying to follow his lead.

Noah, though, has a different take on it.

‘‘I think a lot of guys need to step up in order for us to do something special, and I think a lot of guys are stepping up,’’ Noah said when asked if he thought his game was raising everyone else’s. ‘‘I just like our demeanor out there, especially at the end of a game. I feel like every time you step onto the court, you learn something about our team, and I think [Saturday against the Sacramento Kings], the best part about it was our composure down the stretch. We didn’t let anything get to us. We just stayed focus on what’s important — trying to win the game.

‘‘Jimmy [Butler] didn’t have a good offensive rhythm, but [he had] huge rebounds, just huge plays that helped us win the game. [Mike Dunleavy] with just huge shots. Taj with some big offensive rebounds. Those are things you need to win basketball games, and I think that was the best part — our composure.’’

That composure will be tested again, with MVP candidate Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in town Monday.

‘‘They keep coming,’’ Thibodeau said of a recent stretch in which the Bulls also have played the
Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. ‘‘I like our schedule. [The Thunder] is as good as it gets in the West. They’re right there at the top. They’ve got a lot of weapons, so we’ve got to be ready. They can hurt you a lot of different ways. We’re going to have to play for 48 minutes.’’

And Durant will be another test for a Bulls defense that has been playing better than any in the league.

‘‘[Durant’s] basically a 7-footer with a high release that’s a guard,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He scores so many different ways. He’s seen every type of defense you can throw at him. It’s very difficult to get to his shot. You have to try to make him work for his points. He’s unselfish, plays hard, catch-and-shoot, post, runs the floor. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do well.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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