Those nightly questions about why Joakim Noah is off to a slow start can finally stop.
In the last five games, Noah has averaged 13.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and shot 64.1 percent from the field. After producing 14 points and 13 boards in Monday's victory at Washington, he's had five straight double-doubles and seven straight double-digit rebounding games.
"I think his conditioning and timing are coming around," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's putting in a lot of extra work."
It's true, Noah's numbers were way down during the first weeks of the season. He was also playing less because of frequent foul trouble.
Now, the explanation seems obvious. A condensed two-week training camp wasn't enough time for Noah to get his rhythm and conditioning right.
He didn't come to camp out of shape, necessarily, but his game is constant energy, which requires a level of conditioning most NBA big men don't reach. Noah was a notoriously slow starter early in his career.
On Monday against the Wizards, he also matched a career high with 7 assists.
"Even though he's our center, he's a good passer and he can take a lot of pressure off all the guards," teammate Derrick Rose told reporters after the game. "It just makes everybody's job easier."
For the second time in three games, the Bulls played without Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng on Monday in Washington.
Hamilton had a relapse of his groin strain during Sunday's game in Miami. Deng has missed five games since tearing a ligament in his left wrist.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Deng is close to returning, while it seems likely Hamilton will need more time off. Maybe a few weeks off. The veteran shooting guard has missed 12 of the Bulls' 23 games this season with the groin strain and thigh bruise.
"Going in, we all knew this was going to be a factor, playing this many games in a short period of time," said Kyle Korver, who played 45 minutes in Hamilton's absence Monday. "Guys are going to get hurt. We're not machines, we're people. We've got ligaments and joints that hurt like everybody else's."
Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles, who lost center Andrew Bogut to a broken ankle, was ready to consider blaming the condensed NBA schedule for the leaguewide rash of injuries.
"It is a little tiresome to always have to overcome guys being out," Skiles said. "I think it would probably be prudent when the season's over to look back and total them all up, look at all the injuries and see how many were related to overuse and things like that, and kind of make a judgment then."
Doug delivers defense:
Last year, the Bulls came from behind to claim the league's best record and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
This time, they sprinted to the lead and are trying to stay ahead of several challengers. They'll see another team on the rise tonight in Philadelphia. Under former Bulls coach Doug Collins, the 76ers are 15-6 after a 74-69 win over Orlando on Monday.
The Sixers are 11-2 at home, but have played the league's easiest schedule, based on opponents' winning percentage, according to espn.com.
Philadelphia and the Bulls rank 1-2 in the league in points allowed. In defensive field-goal percentage, the Sixers are first at .414 and the Bulls are eighth at .426.