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Ex-Bulls backup Omer Asik having breakout season with Rockets

The Rockets’ Omer Asik blocks shot by Bulls’ Joakim Noah during game last month Houston. | Getty Images

The Rockets’ Omer Asik blocks a shot by the Bulls’ Joakim Noah during a game last month in Houston. | Getty Images

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The facts: 7, Ch. 26, ESPN, 1000-AM.

Updated: January 26, 2013 6:22AM

When they had Omer Asik on their bench, the Bulls thought they had the best backup center in the NBA. That translated to practice, too, where Asik even challenged the high motor of starter Joakim Noah.

Asik left the Bulls last offseason after they declined to match the three-year, $25.1 million
offer sheet he received from the Houston Rockets. And as much as he might have helped Noah’s game on the court, his ability to play a game of an entirely different kind makes Noah miss Asik just as much off it.

‘‘Sometimes I see the backgammon set that’s still on the plane, and we used to play backgammon together a lot,’’ Noah said. ‘‘Nobody else knows how to play backgammon. Sometimes I get bored on the plane and think about Omer. It’s kind of corny, but it’s true.’’

But Noah’s focus for the Bulls’ game Tuesday against the Rockets at the United Center will be more on Asik’s
double-doubles than on his double-dice rolls.

The Rockets gave Asik the opportunity to start for the first time in his NBA career, and he has taken advantage of it. He is averaging 10.6 points and ranks fourth in the league with 11.4 rebounds per game.

Facing one of the NBA’s elite rebounders couldn’t come at a worse time for the Bulls, who are coming off a 92-75 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which they were outrebounded 45-25.

‘‘[It’s a] concern,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘We can’t rely on one or two guys to do all the rebounding. You have to do it with your entire team, particularly against those teams that shoot a lot of threes and there’s a lot of long rebounds that you have to chase down. So our guards have to get in there.’’

For Noah, it’s about having the right mind-set. When the Bulls lost to the Rockets 93-89
on Nov. 21 in Houston, he had only seven rebounds and thought the game was kind of a dud on his part.

Noah knows positioning will be as important as effort against Asik. He and Thibodeau praised Asik for his understanding of the game and said his recent success hasn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was with the Bulls last season.

‘‘He’s a big boy and somebody who rebounds the ball very well, very high IQ,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s going to run into a lot of pick-and-rolls. We know he can affect the game in a lot of ways.

‘‘He wasn’t getting a lot of playing time when he was here, but he was definitely someone who affected the game when he was on the court. I wish him nothing but the best, but hopefully he plays like [expletive] tomorrow.’’

NOTES: Forward Luol Deng (soreness in left shoulder) did very little in practice Monday, but forward Taj Gibson (soreness in right ankle) participated fully. Both are expected to play against the Rockets.

◆ Guard Richard Hamilton (torn plantar fascia in left foot) stepped up his participation in practice. He took part in all the offensive drills and in some of the defensive work. No timetable has been set for his return.

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