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Full Bull strength for opener

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(AP)
Joakim Noah played in only one preseason game because of a groin injury, but he is expected to play in the Bulls' opener today against Miami.

Tom Thibodeau enjoys media hype about as much as he likes leaving his office, so his answer about Tuesday's high-profile season opener in Miami sounded predictable.

"It's just the next game," Thibodeau said.

Asked about the championship banner and ring presentation ceremony that the Heat will enjoy before tipoff, Joakim Noah offered a flat response.

"I don't want to talk about that," Noah said.

What Noah gladly talked about, and Thibodeau did, too, was Noah's strong recovery from the groin injury that sidelined him for all but one exhibition game totaling 19 minutes, 45 seconds of action.

Both Noah and Thibodeau said the All-Star center has been pain-free for "4 or 5 days," and Noah placed his chances of playing today at "100 percent" after practicing fully Sunday.

Add in that Kirk Hinrich also took full contact on his injured shoulder and sounded confident he'd play against the Heat, and suddenly the Bulls might have all hands on deck to resume this grudge match.

"Every time you play against Miami, it's always a statement," Noah said. "We're a hungry group. It's one of 82, but we know that every time you play against Miami it's important."

Noah's game, both offensively and defensively, is built on game conditioning. But he downplayed falling behind in that department by only playing against the Pistons during the preseason.

"I'll be fine," he said. "I'm not worried about it. I've been working on my conditioning the whole time. Even with the groin, it was more of a lateral problem, a jumping problem, more than just running straightforward. So I was doing a lot of running the whole time.

"I feel 100 percent. I have no problems in my groin. I wanted to play in that last preseason game, but Thibs said no. I was pissed about it, but I think it was the right decision."

Hinrich was cleared to resume physical activity Wednesday, after passing league-mandated tests for the concussion he suffered Oct. 18 when he collided with teammate Erik Murphy. But a shoulder injury lingered, and that's why Sunday proved so important.

With Hinrich set to back up Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler at both guard positions –not to mention his long history battling Dwyane Wade – his availability would bolster the Bulls' chances in, ahem, the next game.

"I should be good to go," Hinrich said. "[Sunday] was kind of a pre-test for [the opener]. It was a long, tough practice. I think I handled it pretty well."

Thibodeau did at least acknowledge the Heat as the "defending champion" and acknowledged that "everyone is chasing them." But he warned about succumbing to the hype. Try telling that to Noah.

"We know it goes through Miami," Noah said. "Those are the guys we want to beat. The East got better.

"It's going to be a long journey, but we have hope. That's a good feeling. It's exciting to really believe that we can do something special. If things go our way, and we keep grinding the way we're grinding right now, we'll have a shot at the end of this."

Not to mention a shot at Tuesday's beginning.

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