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One last hurdle and Joakim Noah could return to the court Monday against Washington

ATLANTA – Sunday’s scheduled Bulls practice just took on a bit more meaning.

According to Fred Hoiberg, if Joakim Noah and his injured left shoulder can make it through an entire practice without a setback – including taking physical contact – the big man will likely be back in the rotation on Monday when Washington comes to town.

“He’s doing some activity [back in Chicago],’’ Hoiberg said of Noah on Saturday. “We’ll get him to do some live stuff [Sunday], and then hopefully he’ll get through a full practice. That’s the biggest thing right now is just getting through a live practice, which we have not done yet.’’

Noah suffered a small tear in his left shoulder back on Dec. 21, against Brooklyn, and has missed the last nine games with the injury.

Not that the team exactly withered without him, winning seven of their next eight games after the details of the injury were announced.

“I think they’ve done a good job,’’ Hoiberg said of life without Noah, especially for that second unit that he played with. “Jo was such a key component in that second group, especially what we were doing offensively. He was kind of the catalyst, getting those guys moving. He’s so good with dribble-handoffs, back-cuts, getting everybody involved. So with Jo out of the lineup it’s been good to see those guys – and it’s really been all five of them – play some key minutes together. We’ll still see how we’ll disperse the minutes and we’ll go from there.’’

Noah was averaging just 22.3 minutes per game before he went down – which was the lowest of his career since he averaged 20.7 minutes as a rookie. With the emergence of rookie Bobby Portis, Noah’s minutes could have some further shrinkage.

What Hoiberg wasn’t worried about was Noah’s return disrupting the chemistry that had been built since he went on the shelf.

“I think our guys are in a pretty good place right now,’’ Hoiberg said. “It’s just going out and continuing to do the things that have brought us success. We’ve been much better offensively, and we need to keep that going. Jo will help with that, and hopefully step up a notch.’’

Not surprised

While Jimmy Butler’s scoring ability still has no ceiling in sight, teammate Doug McDermott saw this coming.

The second-year forward spent time working out with Butler in San Diego this summer, and found out first-hand just how committed Butler was to improving his game.

“Yeah, to be honest,’’ McDermott said, when asked if he expected this from Butler. “His trainer is really good – Chris Johnson – and Jimmy’s a guy, I mean we worked together in the offseason, but his trainer still lives with him. They still go to the gym every morning, every night. He’s always working.

“The stuff he added in the offseason, I definitely saw that coming first-hand. His finishes around the rim have gotten a lot better, his post-up game, along with his handle in pick-and-roll situations have gotten a lot better.’’