Say it ain’t so, Jo


Dec 8

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Now, no one is likely to argue with Joakim Noah if he still insists “Cleveland sucks.”

Of course, that was one of the highlights of last season’s first round playoff series, and now with LeBron James gone, the Cavs, well, are not very good.

The Bulls face them Wednesday with the Cavs back from Philadelphia with another blowout loss, now five straight by an average of more than 22 per game. They are 7-14 and in an emotional meltdown since the nationally televised surrender to James.

Their guards don’t guard and their forwards are somewhat backward.

Though as the Cavs collapse, you also have to begin to wonder a little bit about their Bulls antagonist, Noah.

It hasn’t been the best of times of late for the Bulls center.

Yes, Noah still is second in the NBA in rebounding at 12.2 per game and averaging 14.9 points, certainly All-Star credentials. But you also get the feeling watching him that perhaps the increased playing time while Carlos Boozer recovered has gotten to Noah.

Noah has fouled out of the last two games, Monday in just 21 minutes against the Thunder. That suggests a lack of quickness, reaching and in Noah’s case generally trying to help but being late to recover.

Both the Thunder Monday and the Rockets Saturday went at Noah in pick and roll and their centers, Nenad Krstic and Brad Miller, exceeded their season averages with Krstic getting 18 points and Miller 20. Shaq had a big game, at least for him, against Noah with 12 points and five rebounds in limited minutes, but a dominant performance, and the Magic easily blew out the Bulls last week and while Dwight Howard had a reasonable 13 points and 12 rebounds, the Bulls interior was soft with even Vince Carter getting inside for putbacks.

It’s still early in the season, just a quarter way though, but it is too early to be tiring.

Here are Noah’s averages by month:

October: 16.5 points and 18 rebounds (two games).

November: 15.5 points and 12.5 rebounds (13 games).

December: 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds (four games).

It’s true that Noah’s shocking zero-rebound game against Orlando in 25 minutes skews the December stats. But Noah has generally been lacking the dominant rebound games he was having before as he’s barely gotten into double figures. Granted, that’s terrific and there aren’t many double figure rebounders in the NBA.

But it is a decline for Noah, who even during the seven-game grueling Western Conference road trip averaged more than 13 rebounds per game.

Although he doesn’t play nearly as much and is no offensive threat, Omer Asik on many levels has been a more effective interior help defender.

So one question is whether the load of playing time is becoming too much. It probably makes sense to give Asik some more time for now, perhaps trot out Kurt Thomas some and pair Boozer with Taj Gibson more at times.

The Bulls are the only team in the NBA with three players in the top 15 in minutes played per game.

Luol Deng is sixth in the league at 39.2 minutes per game and is having an excellent season all around. Derrick Rose is eighth and averaging 38.8 minutes and Noah is 15th an averaging 37.7 minutes.

Noah’s career average in three seasons is 24.8 minutes per game. He is just 25, but not quite the brawny physical specimen. He played his most last season, averaging 30 minutes per game, though missing 18 games with plantar fasciitis. This season, Noah is up almost 25 percent in time played over his high of last season.

There also is the change in the lineup with Carlos Boozer back and starting the last four games at power forward, and it has been clear that Noah playing with Taj Gibson, as the Bulls used in their overtime win over Houston, has been a stronger defensive lineup, though four games is a small sample to consider.

I agree it was important for the Bulls to get off to a good start and Noah has been terrific, one of the best centers in the NBA in the early season. But the Bulls may have to be a bit more judicious in his use and with whom given the goal always of finishing strong.

Because the last thing the Bulls want is a Noah who sucks… air.

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