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Bulls' Joakim Noah out at least 2 weeks with left shoulder sprain

The Chicago Bulls announced Tuesday that center Joakim Noah will miss at least two weeks after suffering a sprained left shoulder during their Monday night home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

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Noah suffered the injury while helping teammate Taj Gibson to defend Brooklyn big man Andrea Bargnani late in the third quarter:

Noah was instantly and very evidently in serious pain, immediately bending at the waist, favoring his left arm and walking off toward the Bulls bench. He went back to the locker room with the team's training staff and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game, finishing with four points, eight rebounds, a team-high eight assists and two blocks in 16 minutes of playing time. He said after the game that he heard his shoulder pop out and that it was "pretty painful" before leaving United Center with his left arm in a sling.

X-rays of the shoulder came back negative, but a follow-up magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday morning confirmed the sprain, putting the 30-year-old center on the shelf for at least two weeks. At that point, team doctors will re-evaluate his shoulder and determine whether he's ready to come back or needs more time to rehabilitate.

At a minimum, then, Noah figures to miss the Bulls' next six games, a rough slate that includes road games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks, home contests against the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, and a pair of meetings with the Toronto Raptors. It could be a pivotal stretch for a Chicago club that's reeling after three straight losses, dealing with some internal drama while sifting through the fallout of All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler's recent questioning of Fred Hoiberg's coaching methods, and searching for a new identity under first-year head coach Hoiberg after spending the last half-decade under the hard-charging (and since deposed) Tom Thibodeau.

"It’s always huge when you lose a player like Jo, just the energy he brings," point guard Derrick Rose said, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "It's devastating. Even though people talk about his scoring, his presence on the floor means a lot to this team."

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After struggling early in the season to find his place on a changing Bulls roster after being moved to the bench (which wasn't his idea) just two years removed from winning Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-NBA honors while finishing fourth in MVP voting, Noah had seemed to find a bit of a niche of late, averaging 6.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game over the past 10 contests before Monday.

His communication and attentiveness have helped keep Chicago among the ranks of the league's elite defenses. The Bulls have rebounded the ball significantly better with Noah on the court than off it this season, according to NBA.com's on/off data, and have been better at deterring opponents on point-blank attempts; teams are shooting 50.4 percent inside the restricted area when Noah's on the court, compared to 55.3 percent when he's not. His screening and passing acumen as a secondary (and sometimes primary) playmaker have helped introduce moments of effectiveness into a Bulls attack that ranks 27th among 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession.

More than that, though, it's Noah's energy, intensity and leadership that figured to play such an important part in getting the Bulls past this disappointing period of uncertainty and underperformance, and that seemed like it'd be an integral part of rediscovering the sort of unanimity of purpose for which Chicago looks desperate. There's no good time to lose a player like Joakim Noah, but man, doesn't this feel like the worst time for the Bulls to lose him?

Given the severity of Noah's reaction to his injury on Monday night, there could've been a much worse outcome than a couple of weeks on the shelf, and if the Bulls were going to lose arguably their best and most consistent two-way big man, at least they've got a rotation full of useful frontcourt pieces to help soften the blow. (If nothing else, Noah's injury likely opens the door to exciting rookie Bobby Portis getting some extended run over these next two weeks.) That said, it remains very much an open question just what kind of team, and what kind of situation, Noah might find himself returning to in a fortnight's time.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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