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Bulls haven't exactly missed Joakim Noah, but it's time to prepare for his return

Life without Joakim Noah hasn’t been a bad one for the Bulls.

As a matter of fact, it’s actually been refreshing being able to turn rookie Bobby Portis loose on the rest of the league while Noah recovers from a small tear in his left shoulder.

Things, however, are about to get complicated.

According to first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, Noah missed his eighth-straight game on Thursday, and won’t play Saturday in Atlanta, but if he’s able to practice and take contact next week, he will rejoin the rotation.

So what will that look like?

Hoiberg’s been able to put that question off since Noah went down, but with the Bulls winning their first six of seven games without Noah, it’s now time to cross that bridge.

“Obviously, Bobby is still going to play,’’ Hoiberg said. “There’s no doubt about that. He’s earned his way into this rotation. He’s too important for us right now to go back to the way it was. A big part of that is getting Niko [Mirotic] some experience at the small forward spot. He looks pretty good with that lineup. So we’ll stick with that starting group. That will open up minutes for Jo.

“We’ll go back to playing four bigs there again and kind of work your way through the game depending on how it’s going and different matchups and whether we need an offensive or defensive group out there. Is it exact? No. I don’t think it’s been exact all year as far as how we finish games or how we go about our substitutions as the game goes on.’’

While Noah and Portis have had almost zero minutes together during an actual regular-season game, the two have played together in practice, and have shown enough to make Hoiberg comfortable with the pairing.

“Jo with his role as a playmaker with that second group, being our second leading assist player, you can run things through Jo,’’ Hoiberg said. “Bobby is versatile enough where he can score from the outside if Jo gets by his man, even dribble-handoff type actions. Bobby should be able to pin-down on a shooter, whether it’s Doug [McDermott] or Tony [Snell], into a dribble handoff for Jo. It’s just a little different dynamic when Jo is out there because he’s such a unique player because you can put the ball in his hands.’’

Around the rim

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was absent from the game with the Bulls, instead going to Indiana to visit a former player of his who was very ill. … Derrick Rose admitted that Jimmy Butler might just be the most talented teammate he’s played with since joining the organization. “I think so, man. I think so,’’ Rose said. “Who knows how good he can become. He’s playing … I just love his patience right now. He’s playing with unbelievable patience. He’s not rushing anything, he knows what he’s getting whenever he’s in the pick-and-roll or whenever he’s in the isolation. He’s reading everything right, right now.’’