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Charles Barkley blasts Joakim Noah; Tom Thibodeau defends center

After Bulls’ loss Monday against Grizzlies Charles Barkley criticized center Joakim Noah. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

After the Bulls’ loss Monday against the Grizzlies, Charles Barkley criticized center Joakim Noah. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 19, 2012 8:25AM

Center Joakim Noah took a hit from one of his biggest fans. But he still has the one who counts.

Charles Barkley, the TNT analyst who has been one of Noah’s biggest supporters, hit Noah where it hurts the most after Noah scored two points and had five rebounds in the Bulls’ loss Monday against the Grizzlies.

‘‘His energy level is not the same,” Barkley said. “I have loved how hard he has worked, but he has not played up to his capabilities this year. Even though Chicago has a great record, he has not played like he has played the last couple of years.’’

But coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t seem too worried about it.

‘‘Jo’s fine,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He played well the last couple of games before the Memphis game [12 rebounds against the Celtics and Raptors]. The Memphis game, we played poorly as a team. But I like the way [Noah’s] playing. He’s reacting to the ball a lot better.’’

Frantic pace

The game Tuesday night was the Bulls’ 16th in the first 24 days of the abbreviated post-lockout season — more than any team in the NBA. The Bulls played their 16th game in the first 35 days last season. Injuries are one issue. But the lack of practice is another.

‘‘Usually when you want to correct things, it’s better to do it in practice,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The first thing that goes offensively is your spacing. You need that repetition to work on your timing. And right now, we can’t do that, so we have to try to make those corrections when we’re walking through, which makes it more difficult.’’

Pride of Maywood

Shannon Brown, the Sun-Times’ prep player of the year at Proviso East in 2002-03, is in his first year with the Suns after winning two NBA championship rings in three seasons as a key reserve on the Lakers.

Brown is coming off the bench as he did with the Lakers. He came in as the Suns’ fourth-leading scorer at 9.3 points a game.

Happy 54th

Thibodeau, as expected, asked for only one thing for his 54th birthday: ‘‘A win.’’

The Bulls won on Thibodeau’s birthday last year, beating the Grizzlies 96-84 in Memphis.

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