Noah leading by example for Bulls
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After a tumultuous February, which included new injuries, a rugged schedule and many unresolved questions about Derrick Rose's reappearance on the basketball court, the Bulls find themselves in a pretty good spot.
By beating Brooklyn 96-85 at the United Center on Saturday, they moved past the Nets into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with Atlanta. The Bulls have already won the season series against the Hawks, if it matters.
Another challenge looms Sunday against Central Division-leading Indiana, but the Bulls (34-25) seem to have weathered the season-long storm reasonably well.
For the second game in a row, the story was center Joakim Noah. On Thursday, he produced the NBA's first game of 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in 15 years.
Against Brooklyn, he scored 21 points and hit 10 of 13 shots, with 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocked shots. This completed the first set of back-to-back 20-point games in Noah's NBA career.
"Just opportunity, just diving harder to the basket, my teammates looking for me," Noah said in the locker room. "I'm not really doing anything different from I've been doing. It's just stats, I guess."
Coach Tom Thibodeau attached deeper meaning to Noah's intense play in the past two games.
"The way he's playing is really inspiring to the rest of the team," Thibodeau said. "I think anytime you see a guy make great effort plays, it not only inspires, but it unites. It makes everyone get on board with it. I think what he's doing on the floor is the best type of leadership you could have."
Kirk Hinrich agreed with his coach's sentiment.
"When you've got a guy like that playing with that type of energy, it makes you play harder, there's no question," he said. "If you're out there dogging it, it's going to make you look pretty bad."
The Bulls got off to a terrible start, falling behind 15-4. They caught up before the first quarter was over, then took command with a 15-0 run to end the second quarter.
When they started the second half with 4 more points, the lead was 57-39. Carlos Boozer added 20 points, while Jimmy Butler scored 13, and Nate Robinson and Hinrich scored 12 each.
Brooklyn (34-26) lost at home to Dallas on Friday and has dropped four of five.
At the start February, Noah missed three games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and it appeared he might need some time on the shelf to get healthy. Instead, he came back quickly, played in his first All-Star Game and sent his game to a new level.
"I think he's played at a very high level since the all-star break," Thibodeau said. "He sort of tailed off a little bit, I thought he was nicked up. I thought the time off was good for him. I thought the experience was good for him at the All-Star Game. I thought he came back highly motivated to play. I think there's still a lot of room for growth."
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