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After razzing, Noah shows flash
Go ahead and take his lunch money, as Ben Gordon did earlier this week when the rookie brought the wrong doughnuts to practice.
Haze him further by spelling his name wrong on his road reds, with longtime equipment manager John Ligmanowski laughing as the rookie squirmed about in a "NOHA" jersey that eventually would be replaced with the correct name.
Challenge him by starting Tyrus Thomas at power forward.
No matter: Joakim Noah is going to keep coming at you.
The rookie's irrepressible spirit was as evident Tuesday night at the La Crosse Center as it was throughout his star-studded college career.
The Bulls, led by Andres Nocioni's 13 points, lost to the Bucks 93-88 in both teams' exhibition openers as the intriguing battle for the starting power forward position continued.
With Joe Smith still sidelined with swelling in his right knee that isn't considered serious, Noah finished with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes.
"I wasn't nervous," Noah said. "I was just excited. Everything is new. I feel like a freshman in college all over again playing against the best players in the world. It's cool."
Thomas, whom coach Scott Skiles challenged with pointed pregame words, battled foul trouble before finishing with a strong second half. He had eight points, five rebounds and three turnovers in 21 minutes.
"He was OK," Skiles said of Thomas. "He's still learning."
Noah, like most rookies, will experience his fair share of ups and downs this season. But one thing is clear: The downs often get followed by ups—and typically quickly.
Consider Noah's first touch as a professional, shortly after he entered the game with 3 minutes 51 seconds left in the first quarter. He dribbled into traffic and forced a wild air ball that clanked only backboard.
On the next possession, Noah responded with a dunk in traffic. He followed that by blocking Andrew Bogut's shot at the other end—and flashing some emotion.
"I thought he did a nice job," Skiles said. "He just has to have a better grasp of what we're doing because most exhibition games there are a lot of busted plays. And he's a very good busted-play player."
Noah has admitted to struggling some in this department. In this aspect, he's not alone.
Before the game, Skiles revealed he spent time Monday showing Thomas film from Sunday's fan-friendly scrimmage at the United Center.
"He made a couple of explosive plays but he mostly just stood around flat-footed and looked out of gas," Skiles said. "He knows that staying focused on every possession is still a part of his game that he needs a lot of work on."
Thomas, who had three fouls and three turnovers by halftime, took his sit-down in stride.
"I take it as motivation and look at it as they're concerned about me right now and they want to see the best of me," Thomas said. "So I actually appreciate it. I don't think they would demand out of me more than what they think I can do. And the more they demand, the better I can be."
Who knows what the ceilings are for Thomas and Noah. This is clear: Noah continues to display the ability to handle and distribute the ball, a rare skill for a player nearly 7 feet tall.
Perhaps that's why a small contingent of Bulls fans even started a "Noah! Noah!" chant. It sounded better than "Noha! Noha!"
LayupsAs expected, Gordon, Smith, Thabo Sefolosha and Adrian Griffin sat with injuries. Gordon and Smith dressed but, like Smith, Gordon had no intention of playing with his sore ankle. Sefolosha said his strained right hamstring should be ready for Friday's home exhibition opener against the Mavericks. … Thomas Gardner started at guard for Gordon. … After shunning it the first week of training camp, Ben Wallace broke out the signature headband he no longer is forbidden from wearing. He also attempted a three-pointer in the third quarter. … The Bulls and Bucks met in 1980 in the first event in the La Crosse Center.