Here's a spot no one thought Joakim Noah would end up: Among the NBA scoring leaders.
OK, it's only two days into the season. But by opening with 23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots in Wednesday's 93-87 win over Sacramento, Noah started the day in a tie as the league's 12th-leading scorer.
"If he keeps that up, we'll be a great team," teammate Luol Deng said. "I have no doubt, because he works so hard. His energy was great."
Noah isn't convinced he'll average 20 points per game, but he is gaining confidence as a scoring threat.
"I can do things offensively," he said. "Whatever's asked of me. I feel I can make plays for other people and things like that. When we're moving the ball around, it's a lot easier. When you get the defense moving around like that, it's a lot easier to get offensive rebounds."
Coach Tom Thibodeau offered a couple of reasons why Noah is off to a good start.
"To me, he's put a lot of work into his conditioning," Thibodeau said. "He's been healthy, which is a big plus for him. He's practicing a lot better, too, this year. He's putting a lot more time into film. He's coming in ready to go.
"The thing that I think he's really improved upon is his screening. The better he screens, the more he's open. That's where he's really effective."
Thibs tries new lineups:
During Wednesday's win over Sacramento, coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't afraid to use combinations not seen in preseason.
Among the examples were using Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich together in the backcourt, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng at the same time, and putting Taj Gibson at center with Carlos Boozer at power forward.
"We've done it in practice," Thibodeau said. "A lot of what you're doing is going to be based on matchups, too. The thing I like about those guys is they can play multiple positions. It does give us some flexibility."
Shooting guard Marco Belinelli got a quick hook, in favor of Butler, when he didn't contest a 3-point shot by Marcus Thornton in the second half. Veteran center Nazr Muhammed played less than three minutes, but that was because the Kings used a small, quick lineup almost exclusively.
Closer by committee:
With Derrick Rose recovering from knee surgery, the Bulls need to find other options for those late-game shots he used to take.
In the opener against the Kings, Carlos Boozer did the most damage late, and Joakim Noah went 4-for-4 at the foul line to seal the win.
"You've got a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of special things," Richard Hamilton said. "The game is all about matchups. One night, it might be my matchup. One night, it might be Booz's matchup. One night, it might be Lu (Deng's) matchup. The one thing about us, we're trying to find that matchup. If we've got somebody going, we try to stick with it."