Chicago Bulls: Why Joakim Noah Is the Biggest X-Factor in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

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Chicago Bulls: Why Joakim Noah Is the Biggest X-Factor in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

With Derrick Rose out of the playoffs with his ACL tear, Joakim Noah will be the biggest X-factor for the Chicago Bulls in these wild NBA playoffs, affecting how the Eastern Conference will shape up. 

Pundits and fans alike are counting the Bulls already down and out, with the Philadelphia 76ers or the winner of the Boston Celtics/Atlanta Hawks advancing to face the "almighty" Miami Heat.

But the fiery and ever energetic Noah won't let the Bulls go down easily.

Noah is arguably the Bulls' third-best player and one of the NBA's top centers. The 2007 first-round pick out of Florida is an able post and perimeter defender, rebounder, passer and scorer.

When Rose went down with his devastating left knee injury, Noah said he had to take a bigger leadership role with the Bulls. From the Chicago Tribune:

"We're not going to start backing down now," Joakim Noah said. "We're a team of fighters. We're going to keep fighting and make the city proud.

"The whole team has to step up. Our margin of error is a lot smaller with Derrick out. Can you replace Derrick? No. But we're not going to let the media or anybody paint the picture for us. We've played well without Derrick before."

The fifth-year player is a strong playoff performer (10.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 blocks) and has played his best ball to open the playoffs.

In Tuesday's 109-92 loss to the 76ers, Noah was a marksman from the field, with 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists. The 6'11", 232-pound Noah exploded for 14 points on seven shots to propel his Bulls to a 55-47 halftime lead.

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Noah was performing like his and the Bulls' lives were depending on it. When he scores 15 or more points, the Bulls were 11-3 before Tuesday night.

The Bulls and coach Tom Thibodeau made a mistake in not continuing to feed a red-hot Noah the ball in the second half, which was a big reason why the 76ers ran away with the victory to even up the series.

Thibodeau must realize that Noah has offensive talent with his post and mid-range game, and allow the team's emotional leader to get more touches.

Noah controls the Bulls energy and needs to get Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton going offensively. Noah bangs in the paint and post for offensive boards, which gives those three confidence to shoot the ball more.

The All-Star caliber center can slow down the 76ers' Spencer Hawes while giving the Celtics' Kevin Garnett or Hawks' Josh Smith all they can handle on both ends of the court.

And if the Bulls eventually face the LeBron James and the Heat, Noah has an advantage over Joel Anthony/Udonis Haslem. If Heat coach Erik Spoelstra uses Chris Bosh at center, Noah can contain Bosh and still put up admirable production offensively.

If Noah can continue his strong play from Games 1 and 2 in the series, he will lead Chicago to victory over the 76ers and the Celtics/Hawks. Noah won two national championships at Florida and will make sure the Bulls are firing on all cylinders the rest of the way. 

Without Rose leading the Bulls, Noah will step up from being a solid role player to becoming a successful focal point in the Bulls attack.

For the positive production and energy he provides, Joakim Noah is definitely the biggest X-factor in these 2012 NBA playoffs.

 

Bob Bajek is an NBA/Chicago Bulls featured columnist. He is also a freelance reporter and can be followed on Patch.com and Twitter.

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