When Joakim Noah talked about the all-star experience being weird and awkward, he meant the part about strolling into the locker room and pretending to be pals with players who are sworn on-court enemies.
Catching passes from LeBron James and helping the East all-stars end a three-game losing streak to the West -- nothing awkward about that.
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But it was a little weird. Who would have thought Noah would end up playing the entire fourth quarter?
Noah's task of bringing a little defense to a game that featured 338 points scored seemed nearly impossible. But the results speak for themselves: The West scored a mere 29 points in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game in New Orleans after averaging 42 points in the first three.
"The game's got to be defensive if you want to win," Noah told bulls.com after the game. "In the beginning I was, 'Oh nobody really cares.' Toward the end, it got competitive. The game changed. Overall we wanted to win. To be able to get that win; it's cool."
True, the musical guests were more competitive than the all-stars for most of the night. A yawner of a game got interesting, though, at the end and the East salvaged some of the respect lost by the lopsided conference standings.
Noah scored 6 points in the fourth quarter, twice turning passes from James into dunks. The East finished the game on a 10-0 run to pull out a 163-155 victory. Noah finished with 8 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
After the game, East coach Frank Vogel talked about why he stuck with Noah instead of putting his own player, Roy Hibbert, back in at center.
"Well, I had a plan to get (Noah) about seven or eight minutes in the fourth quarter and, if it was close, finish with my guy, Roy Hibbert," Vogel said after the contest. "The way that group was going, they made a little bit of a run. So a certain unit is making a run, you want to ride them out a little bit.
"Joakim played some great minutes there in the (fourth) quarter. I could have come back with Roy. Roy would have been a little bit stiff, would have taken him a few minutes (to get going). And that group was rolling. So a lot of times you just stay with the group that's going."
Vogel wasn't simply plotting to get his own guys some extra rest. Pacers forward Paul George was among the East leaders in minutes played, with 33. Down the stretch, Vogel essentially played the starters, with Noah on the floor instead of Miami's Dwyane Wade.
"I had a great time. I'm a little tired, but there's time to rest," Noah said. "Overall, it was just an unbelievable honor, especially to play down the stretch. I like that stuff. I want to be out there on the court."
Noah talked about feeling the winning camaraderie with James, George, Carmelo Anthony and other East rivals turned teammates for a day.
"When we play against each other, it's competitive as heck," he said. "There's no love. But at the end of the day, I have the utmost respect for every player in the league because I know how hard it is to get there. To play in these games with the best players, to get a pocket pass here and there, get a nice pass, it's a good feeling."
Since the Bulls had a game last Thursday, they took Monday off. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been giving the team plenty of time off. So on Tuesday, they'll practice at the Berto Center for the first time since Jan. 9.
The challenge begins right away. The next game is Wednesday at Toronto, where the Bulls could pull into a tie with the Raptors for third place in the East with a win. This weekend, they'll take a trip to Miami and Atlanta, then host Golden State and visit Dallas to finish February.
• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter@McGrawDHBulls.