DEERFIELD, Ill. — Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will miss three weeks because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot that has been bothering him since mid-January — a blow as his team starts a brutal stretch of games against some of the NBA's better teams.
Noah missed seven straight games at one point in February and played limited minutes in his first three games back before getting 11 rebounds in 27 minutes against Portland on Friday. He did not accompany the team to Indiana the following day and sat out the Bulls' loss to Atlanta on Monday.
The injury has interrupted a breakout season for Noah, who is averaging 10.7 points and 11.4 rebounds. He has missed 10 games in all because of the condition and will likely miss at least 10 more, with no guarantee the time off will cure him.
"It's a very difficult injury," coach Vinny Del Negro said Wednesday. "It's very difficult to treat. He might rest for three weeks, he might rest for two months, come back and it's still bothering him. Rest will help usually, no question, but he's got to come back, fight through the pain. Give him a few weeks [and] hopefully, he reacts better to that."
Even if the news was hardly shocking, this is still a big blow for a team that's trying to secure a playoff spot and get through a bruising scheduling stretch. The Hawks game was the first of nine straight against playoff contenders, with Memphis visiting on Thursday.
The Bulls then host Dallas and Utah and go to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas before hosting Cleveland on March 19.
"When we play bigger front lines, not having [Noah's] length back there is an issue," said Del Negro, who is also concerned about wearing down veteran Brad Miller. "Other guys have to step up, play well."
While Noah got shut down, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and forward Luol Deng were held out of contact drills on Wednesday because of knee problems and are questionable for the Grizzlies game.
Rose has banged his knees in each of the past two games, while Deng — the Bulls' second-leading scorer at 18.2 points per game — has some swelling in the left one stemming from a hit in a home game against Indiana last week. He said the swelling has "gone down a little bit" and hopes to play Thursday, but he still has some pain and stiffness.
The timing, he said, was bad, with the Bulls in a playoff race and one of their best players out.
"I told Jo he's got to make sure he's close to 100 percent before he gets back," Deng said.
The Bulls got some help in the frontcourt on Wednesday when they signed forward Chris Richard, who appeared in five games for Chicago before getting released last month. They also waived veteran guard Lindsey Hunter, the league's oldest player at 39. He will remain with the team in some sort of mentorship role after spending the past year-and-a-half in Chicago, ending a 17-year career in which he won championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 and Detroit Pistons in 2004.
"Never in a million years would I have thought that I would play as long as I have," Hunter said. "It's truly a blessing for me."