MINNEAPOLIS – At some point this summer, maybe, just maybe, Joakim Noah will be able to sit back on some beach and actually think about the individual season he put together throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
The Bulls big man was at it again in Wednesday’s 102-87 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and handing out 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season and the seventh of his career.
Another unselfish performance, another performance in which he put the team on his shoulders. But also another showing in which all he cared about was the final score and another win.
This time of the year, that’s all that matters to Noah.
“He’s been terrific,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of his All-Star center. “And it’s not only the passing part. It’s his scoring, his decision-making. He’s gotten a lot more comfortable scoring. So teams that are sitting on his passes now, he has to be played honestly. He’s scoring on the pick-and-roll. He’s scoring in the post. He’s hitting the 16-, 17-footer.
“It’s all the things in totality that he contributes to winning that makes him who he is. And he’s had a terrific season for us. He started slowly, he missed most of training camp, so the first month he got off to a slow start, but after that, each month he’s gotten better and better, and he’s playing at a very high level right now.’’
So are the Bulls.
Their sixth consecutive win put them at 46-32, and kept them neck-and-neck with Toronto (46-32) for that No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding.
It wasn’t like they weren’t facing a hot team at the Target Center, either, as the Timberwolves (39-39) had wins over both Miami and San Antonio the last week. But while Minnesota is getting ready for the NBA Draft, Noah and the Bulls have a little different priority list.
That was on full display in the final quarter, as a 75-70 Bulls lead to start the final 12 minutes turned into an easy double-digit win. Credit efficient offense, but also that choke-you-out smothering defense that they’ve been throwing on teams in the final quarter of games the last month.
After Minnesota’s Luc Mbah a Moute hit an 18-footer with 11 minutes left in the game, the Timberwolves had just one field goal over the next three minutes. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler scored five points and Taj Gibson added four in that time, as the Bulls jumped out by 10 and never looked back.