Joakim Noah could have taken an easy path from the NBA All-Star Game to the Bulls' next contest.
In less than an hour of flight time, he could have gone from Houston to New Orleans. But Noah, and fellow all-star Luol Deng, returned to Chicago, practiced Monday at the Berto Center, then rode the team plane to the Pelican State.
On top of that, Noah has been suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot and claimed that he didn't sleep in four days while enjoying his first all-star appearance.
So Noah may not have been the first choice for player of the game, but he delivered 15 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists as the Bulls returned from the break with a 96-87 win over the Hornets on Tuesday at New Orleans Arena.
"Joakim was everywhere, multiple effort plays," coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "That probably was one of his best screening games since I've been here.
"The biggest thing is he practiced great yesterday and he practiced great this morning. That, more than anything, told me he was going to be ready to go. That's what we expect from him and that's what we need. As a leader of the team, that's what he needs to do. It was great to see the approach that he had coming out of the break. He didn't stay on the break, he was ready to go."
No doubt it was Thibodeau's decision to have a full practice in Deerfield the day after the all-star break. Deng also seemed to benefit, scoring a team-high 20 points, while Carlos Boozer contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Another factor for the Bulls was the return of Kirk Hinrich, who missed the last seven games before the break with an infected right elbow.
Hinrich produced 5 points and 10 assists, but seemed to set the tone for the offense. The Bulls (31-22) finished with 20 assists on 39 baskets. They also built a 47-39 rebounding edge against the younger Hornets.
"I thought our defense was solid," Thibodeau added. "The ball was hopping, making quick decisions, not shortcutting things, making the extra pass, setting good screens. I thought overall it was very good."
The Bulls lost to New Orleans at the United Center back on Nov. 2, the third game of the season. Chicago native Anthony Davis, the top pick in last year's draft, didn't play in that contest. So in his first action against his hometown team, Davis had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Shooting guard Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose's former AAU teammate, led New Orleans with 20 points.
The Bulls led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, before the Hornets pulled within 76-75 on a Brian Roberts 3-pointer two minutes into the fourth.
That's when the defense kicked in and the Bulls pulled away. New Orleans managed just 1 field goal in the next 5½ minutes and the visitors slowly pulled away.
Next up for the Bulls is their first home game of the season against defending champ Miami on Thursday.
"They have so many weapons," Thibodeau said. "They're playing at a very high level. You can't overcommit in one area because they can burn you in so many different other areas. It has to be a multiple effort game. You have to get back, get set, protect the paint, challenge shots, rebound. The thing that often gets overlooked with them is how good they are defensively. To beat them, you have to play a great game."