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updated: 12/19/2010 9:27 PM

First test without Noah creates concern for Bulls

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  • Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks against the Raptors in his final game before undergoing thumb surgery. Noah will be out 8-10 weeks.

      Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks against the Raptors in his final game before undergoing thumb surgery. Noah will be out 8-10 weeks.
    Associated Press


Easy as it is to panic after one poor performance, the Bulls have reason to be concerned about history repeating itself.

Last season they made history with 5 straight road victories against winning teams, only to collapse into a 10-game losing streak a few weeks later when center Joakim Noah had to rest his aching foot.

In this season's first game without Noah, the Bulls saw a seven-game winning streak end with a 100-99 loss to Vinny Del Negro's Los Angeles Clippers.

The inside combination of Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer seemed inadequate against the Clips, but it's also very possible Noah wouldn't have had any more luck with rookie powerhouse Blake Griffin.

The Bulls won points in the paint, second-chance points and were outrebounded by 1. Clippers center Deandre Jordan scored just 4 points in 32 minutes, so this result appeared to be much more of a Griffin problem than an interior-defense problem.

Gibson barely played Saturday, picking up 3 first-half fouls in just five minutes of action, then suffering a concussion in the third quarter.

Veteran Kurt Thomas seemed to do a reasonable job of slowing Griffin down in the second half, but most of the damage already was done.

The attention the Bulls were forced to show the muscular rookie went a long way toward explaining how Craig Smith, Rasual Butler and Eric Bledsoe contributed 31 points off the bench.

The Bulls have done a nice job this season pulling out victories in the final five minutes after playing poorly in the first 43, but that's always asking for trouble.

Derrick Rose can accept some blame for missing a game-tying free throw with 0.8 seconds on the clock. But the Bulls trailed the Clippers 100-93 with 42.5 seconds remaining. It was a borderline miracle the game even came down to a final free throw.

"In this league, you've got to come ready to play every night, and if you don't, you're asking for trouble," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "Our problem was our intensity at the start."

Is it possible the other Bulls need Noah out there to get them fired up for a game? His presence probably helps, but they should be to overcome that situation.

"I really don't know. As a team, we came out flat. We just have to try to play harder," Rose said. "You're definitely going to miss somebody like Jo, but there are no excuses. We've still got to go out there and play these games and hopefully take it out on Philly."

It will take a few more games to figure out how sturdily the Bulls stand without Noah.

A couple of deceptively easy games are coming up, against Philadelphia and Washington. Neither team is all that powerful inside, but the Sixers have won eight of their last 11 games and the Wizards should have beaten Miami on Saturday.

•Derrick Rose shot 9 free throws Saturday, but the trend of creating contact at the basket with no foul call continued.

On one fourth-quarter drive, Rose almost had his teeth knocked out by DeAndre Jordan but didn't go the line.

"I've just got to play through it," Rose said after the game. "Hopefully they see it. If they don't, I'm not going to cry about it. I'm going to continue to play and let them call the calls."

•There may be no precedent in NBA history for a contending team making as radical a midseason makeover as Orlando did Saturday.

In trades with Phoenix and Washington, the Magic added Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark, while sending away Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat.

Orlando added plenty of firepower with a new backcourt of Arenas and Richardson. Whether that can offset the losses in defense and height remains to be seen.

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