Joakim Noah hasn’t made much noise on the court this season, but he has made his voice heard.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Noah has been one of the vocal leaders trying to keep the team together amid its struggles. Carmelo Anthony said after Wednesday night’s last-second loss in Philadelphia that Noah was “preaching” to move forward and focus on beating the Bulls on Thursday night.
The Knicks did that on a night when both Noah’s voice and game were loud. A fired-up Noah spent time talking to both teams and had his fifth double-double as a Knick, finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds against his former team in a 104-89 victory.
“You could tell he was pumped,” Derrick Rose said. “He likes talking BS. I mean talking [expletive].”
“Jo was on us all game, screaming,” Kyle O’Quinn said.
After signing a four-year, $72-million free-agent contract last summer, Noah has struggled to make a consistent impact for the Knicks. But the proud veteran and former Defensive Player of the Year has been performing better lately while playing through a sore right shoulder.
Noah, who had season-ending surgery on the other shoulder last January, said he doesn’t think it will keep him out of any games. That’s as far as he would go about his injury. “I’m all right,” he said.
The Knicks (18-22) hope they are, too, after what has been a brutal stretch.
It began with a Christmas Day loss to Boston, when a national television audience saw the Knicks’ defensive struggles. That defeat began a run of nine losses in 10 games, two of them at the buzzer. It also left the Knicks with 12 losses in 15 games after a 14-10 start.
Rose also went AWOL last Monday, returning to Chicago for what he termed “a family issue.”
Noah and the Knicks tried to put all of that behind them with a complete performance against Chicago. They led for roughly 45 minutes of the game, including the entire second half.
“I haven’t been in situations like this too many times in my career,” Noah said. “But I’ve definitely been in situations when there’s been adversity. I think that a lot of guys showed what they were made of.”
Noah is averaging 5.7 points and 8.9 rebounds in 22.8 minutes a game. Some believe that O’Quinn should be starting, but O’Quinn has been a reliable contributor off the bench, filling the backup big man role well with the second unit.
Noah, who is more proven as a starter, has played his best ball of the season lately and believes he will continue to improve. He’s averaging 8.0 points and 10.2 rebounds in his last 11 games, with three double-doubles in that time.
“I feel like I can still do better,” Noah said. “I feel like there’s another level that I want to get to . . . I’ve just got to keep pushing and getting better.”
As the Knicks continue a difficult part of their schedule, Kristaps Porzingis could be out or limited. He missed the game against the Bulls after his sore left Achilles flared up again.
It appears to be a lingering issue that could require Porzingis to take additional time off. The Knicks will play Sunday afternoon in Toronto, starting a span of four games in five nights. All are against teams the Knicks are looking up at in the standings: the Raptors, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards.
Despite their struggles and freefall in the standings from the third seed in mid-December to 10th now, the Knicks believe they can rise again. After Thursday night’s victory, they were only two games out of a playoff spot and 2 ½ games behind fifth-seeded Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference standings.
“When you look at it from that perspective, yeah, we’re very optimistic about what we can do,” Anthony said. “I’m the most positive person you’ll ever meet. I feel good about what we can accomplish right now.”