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Joakim Noah plays like All-Star in Bulls’ win

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Updated: February 20, 2014 6:56AM



Coach Tom Thibodeau admittedly is biased.

After the Bulls’ 103-78 victory Saturday over the 76ers, he was wondering out loud if there was another big man playing at a higher level than Joakim Noah.

Quick answer: No.

With 21 points, 16 rebounds and three assists, Noah is making a strong case for a second consecutive All-Star berth. It was his team-leading 16th double-double, and he has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in 12 consecutive games, the longest streak of his career.

Noah was averaging 13.9 points, 13.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks in January.

“[Noah is] doing just about everything, laundry, everything,’’ Thibodeau said. “You can’t play any better than he’s playing now, and in every aspect of the game. The defense has been there all season, the rebounding off the charts, but the playmaking, the quick decisions, multiple efforts, it sets the tone for our team.’’

So much for the loss of Luol Deng.

Noah was stung the most by Deng’s trade to the Cavaliers, but it also seemed to stir something inside. He’s playing at a high level, but he also has ramped up his fiery demeanor to another level.

“He’s been winning us games; that’s what Jo’s been doing — on both ends of the floor,’’ swingman Jimmy Butler said. “He’s been huge. His leadership, the energy he brings, making shots, defending, passing the ball. He’s an All-Star; he’s playing like one.’’

With the one-sided victory, the Bulls improved to 19-20 but are 7-2 since Jan. 1 and 5-2 since Deng was traded.

Noah also led the Bulls with four blocks. So what’s behind this all-around outburst?

Noah said having D.J. Augustin running the pick-and-roll and having two healthy feet are keys.

“Yeah, I think D.J. is really good on the pick-and-roll,’’ Noah said. “Always looking for me, always looking for the roll guy. I feel healthy. I feel good on the court, feeling very comfortable. I haven’t felt healthy like this in a long time. My feet don’t hurt, my body is feeling good, so I’m just trying to take it game-by-game and enjoying it.’’

Thibodeau didn’t seem overly concerned with outside opinion when asked about Noah’s All-Star chances.

“I’m biased, but he’s playing as well as any big man in the league,’’ Thibodeau said. “The thing that will probably hurt some, and I hope we can get this corrected shortly, is being under .500. We’ve got to get to .500 and above, and we’ve got to go step by step, but I think he’s leading the way.

“It’s not only his individual numbers that are good — his rebounding is off the charts, the assists — but it’s his ability to make others better. That’s what the passing does. The big thing he’s doing is he’s making much quicker decisions, which is helping our offense a lot. It puts pressure on people.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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