If a difficult stretch of games wasn’t challenging enough on its own, the Chicago Bulls are also enduring a wave of injuries.
Joakim Noah(notes) begins what’s expected to be a three-week hiatus Thursday night, when the Bulls could also be without leading scorers Derrick Rose(notes) and Luol Deng(notes) against the Memphis Grizzlies, winners of a franchise-record five straight on the road.
The Bulls (31-29) face seven teams with winning records in their next eight games including three division leaders - Dallas, Orlando and Cleveland.
Noah missed seven games in February due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and may have returned too soon. After limited production in his first three games back, he grabbed 11 rebounds in 27 minutes of Friday night’s 115-111 overtime win over Portland. However, he didn’t travel with the team for a 100-90 loss at Indiana the following night and also sat out a 116-92 defeat to Atlanta on Monday to open a four-game homestand.
The Bulls announced Wednesday that Noah, averaging a career-best 10.7 points and 11.4 rebounds this season, will miss at least 10 more games.
“It’s a very difficult injury,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s very difficult to treat. He might rest for three weeks. He might rest for two months, come back and it’s still bothering him. Rest will help usually, no question, but he’s got to come back, fight through the pain. Give him a few weeks (and) hopefully, he reacts better to that.”
Deng and Rose - the team’s top two scorers - also sat out contact drills Wednesday with ailing knees, and their statuses are uncertain for this contest. Deng did not play in the loss to the Hawks, while Rose scored a team-high 24 points - his fifth straight game with at least 20 - despite being limited by injury.
“It’s a long season, and we go through the peaks and valleys,” Del Negro told the Bulls’ official Web site. “We just need to find a way to get guys healthy.”
Whichever Bulls are healthy enough to play will face a Memphis team that’s alternated wins and losses in its last nine games in odd fashion, with all the victories coming on the road and the losses occurring at home. The Grizzlies (31-30) haven’t lost on the road since a 109-102 defeat to Minnesota on Feb. 6.
In Wednesday night’s 104-100 victory in New Orleans, Mike Conley(notes) had a season-high 26 points and five steals, while Zach Randolph(notes) tallied 23 points and 11 rebounds for his 42nd double-double of the season to match Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s(notes) franchise record.
“I knew some nights we have players that are off and tonight might be my night to help pick up the team in scoring,” Conley said. “I realized that, so I just tried to be aggressive and keep trying to score.”
The Bulls have won their last five meetings with the Grizzlies (31-30) at the United Center, and the home team has taken the last nine games in this series. They’ll play again March 16 in Memphis.