CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah sat in front of his locker on Monday night with a frustrated look on his face as his eyes gazed off into space. His right foot sat in a big ice tub as he collected his thoughts and pondered what to say. The emotional center had just played 38 minutes on that foot -- a foot which has been tortured by plantar fasciitis for the past few weeks. Noah pulled down 15 rebounds on the night, but he didn't care considering the Chicago Bulls got crunched by an undermanned San Antonio Spurs team playing without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. A few minutes after taking his foot out of the ice and hobbling into the shower, Noah admitted he isn't sure how fans and media should treat his injury -- because he isn't sure how to treat it himself.
"I just don't have a good answer to give you guys," he said. "There's no right or wrong, it's just trying to find something that works."
Noah didn't do much at Monday morning's shootaround aside from a few flat-footed post moves after practice. He didn't do much over the past few days because he wanted to stay off it. But when the bell rang Monday night, Noah was on the floor and giving what he had, because he does not want to disappoint his teammates and coaches.
"I didn't do much for the last two days so, just rest," he said. "I got to figure out something that works because I have to practice, too."
That's the problem right now for Noah and the Bulls. Despite his assertions that he feels "fine" and he's not worried about the idea of playing heavy minutes on the foot, it's obviously still bothering him. He doesn't have the same lift and he isn't as fast side-to-side as he was earlier in the year. He wants to be on the floor, though, and he wants to continue playing without a problem. He wants to play in Sunday's All-Star Game -- his first -- and he wants to lead the Bulls in the second half of the season.
Is that possible right now, though?
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau obviously thinks it is.
"I watch what he’s doing on the floor, so that gives me a pretty good indication," Thibodeau said. "I don’t know if you guys realize this, but I do have a trainer. And we have medical people, too."
Thibodeau does not like being criticized for playing his players too many minutes because he's always believed, like many coaches, that there's a difference between playing hurt and being injured. Right now it appears that Noah is willing to do whatever he can to stay on the floor, and for the moment he can't hurt himself anymore. It's a pain-tolerance mind game and Noah is trying to win. He played and looked better than he did last week, but he seems to understand that something is still askew. The foot is still bothering him but he wants to be out there, wants to help Thibodeau and push through the pain.
Can he do it?
Three years ago he tried to play through the same injury in his left foot and it derailed his season. For now, he's confident that he can put the pain somewhere and continue fighting through even though he may not have all the answers.
"You got to give credit when credit is due," Noah said of the Spurs' effort. "They play very well, they stick to their game plan, but we're not playing good basketball right now. We're on top of each other offensively. We're not trusting each other defensively, we have to play better, and we know that we're more than capable of playing better."
Playing better should be a big concern for Noah, but not as big as feeling better. If he can't find a way to heal his foot during the season it will be a much bigger blow than losing to an undermanned team on an off night.