Bulls’ Noah finds ways to handle heavy minutes

By Mike McGraw

There are different ways to spend the summer besides hanging out inside the Berto Center at all hours of the night.

Joakim Noah decided to try some different tactics this year and thinks a couple of them helped him handle the heavy load of minutes that have come his way.

After Saturday’s victory over New York, Noah is averaging just less than 40 minutes per game, second in the NBA behind Luol Deng.

One tactic Noah learned was yoga, an idea given to him by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Noah says he does yoga on off-days, and it helps him with recovery.

He also discovered the strange world of underwater workouts. Through some friends, Noah hooked up with legendary big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and spent some time in Southern California learning his methods.

“I would say I learned just as much about recovery from him as anybody,” Noah said after playing 44 minutes and the entire second half against the Knicks. “The way he trains for what he does is unbelievable. I consider him like a mentor.”

Hamilton doesn’t compete in surfing, necessarily. He trains mostly so he can survive the world’s largest walls of water.

“He surfs 60-, 70-foot giants,” Noah said. “You fall, you could die. Talk about mental toughness. When you have a 60-foot monster, you can be under (water) for two or three minutes, so you have to train for that.

“He’ll use weights and do like jumps underwater. He can do like 10 jumps. I can do like three. It’s unbelievable, just for your lung capacity and stuff like that. It really helped me doing these pool workouts.”

Noah wasn’t sure what was in store for the basketball season, but that lung work has paid off. His previous career high was 32.8 minutes per contest in 2010-11, and he made it through just 48 games that year because of a thumb injury.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau always has counted on Deng to play heavy minutes, so the veteran forward serves as sort of the team’s ironman mentor.

“Whenever I feel real bad, I always go to Lu and ask him, ‘What should I do?’” Noah said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. He definitely has tricks up his sleeve.

“Recovery, icing. I think the most important thing is just sleep. I have a hard time with that sometimes, just getting to bed.”

Deng gave Noah high marks for learning how to tone down everything else and be ready to spend long minutes on the basketball court.

“I just keep staying on him, it’s a long season,” Deng said. “We’re not even halfway, not even close, and it’s going to catch up if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Noah is averaging career highs in points (13.7), assists (4.2) and steals (1.4). At 10.8 rebounds per game, he’s just slightly behind his career high of 11.0.

He opened eyes across the country with his 30-point, 23-rebound game Friday at Detroit.

He seemed a little gassed a night later against the Knicks but still scored 8 points in the fourth quarter, even though the Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights.

Noah watched Deng lead the league in minutes per game last season but never gave much thought to the difficulty.

“It was crazy, especially last year with the condensed schedule. That’s no joke,” Noah said. “I didn’t really care that much about Lu and his minutes. Now I just have a whole, newfound respect for it.

“It’s always a great feeling when you’re tired, you can come back to the locker room and share with your teammates, that feeling of winning a basketball game.”

If he wants to keep winning, Noah better be ready to survive the wall of minutes that could take him under without warning. The Los Angeles Clippers await Tuesday.

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