Bulls hope to be at full strength for opener
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Joakim Noah, who played only 19 minutes in the preseason, as able to practice Sunday. The Bulls open their season Tuesday night at Miami.
The argument can be made that health is the Bulls' most important opponent this season, more than the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
So far, it looks like the Bulls are 1-0 in the health department. Both Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich practiced Sunday, and it appears the Bulls will be at full strength for Tuesday's season opener in Miami.
Asked to estimate the chances he will play against the Heat, Noah replied 100 percent. He missed nearly all of the preseason because of a groin strain, but coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah has been pain free for four or five days.
"I feel 100 percent right now," Noah said at the Berto Center. "I'm having no problem with my groin. I wanted to play in that last preseason game, but Thibs said no. I was ticked about it, but I think it was the right decision."
Even though he logged just 19 minutes total during the preseason, Noah thinks he has been able to stay relatively close to game shape.
"I'll be fine. I'm not worried about it," he said. "I've been working on my conditioning the whole time. Even with the groin, it was just more of a lateral problem, a jumping problem, more than running straight forward. So I was doing a lot of running the whole time. So I'll be fine."
Hinrich suffered a concussion and sore shoulder when he fell backward and struck his head on teammate Erik Murphy's knee during the Oct. 18 game against Indiana. On Sunday, Hinrich said he has passed all the necessary concussion tests and should be ready to play in Miami.
"I'm happy I was able to get this practice under my belt," he said. "Today was kind of a big test for it. We had a long, tough practice. I think I handled it pretty well."
The Bulls decided to keep veteran point guard Mike James on the final roster. Thibodeau suggested Hinrich's health was one reason they released big men Dexter Pittman and D.J. White on Saturday.
The Bulls' projected starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Noah never played together during the preseason because the one time Noah played (Oct. 16 vs. Detroit), Butler sat out with a bruised knee.
So it will be interesting to see if that lineup is in sync against Miami. The big story of the preseason was Rose quickly returning to his old form, but Deng, Boozer and Taj Gibson also played well this month.
Noah had a good view of the Bulls' 8-0 preseason, stuck on the bench resting the injury. He provided an assessment of where the team stands heading into the real season.
"I was more impressed with the work off the court than the work on the court," he said. "I think we're a work in progress. I think we have to be more fluid offensively. Our reads have to be better defensively. Obviously, we're not a finished product, but the potential is there. It's a good feeling."
There's probably no better place to start than against LeBron James and the two-time defending champs. Even though this game won't mean much in the big picture, it will be an interesting test for Rose's return to regular-season action.
"It's going to be a long journey, but we're all very excited about it," Noah added. "We have hope, and that's a good feeling to go into a season with hope. And excitement, really believing we can do something special. If things go our way and we keep grinding the way we're grinding right now, we'll have a shot at the end of this."
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