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Bulls’ trip to Rio is all business

Chicago Bulls vs Miami He- Game Two

Chicago Bulls vs Miami Heat - Game Two

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Joakim Noah’s face froze for a second when he jokingly was told that Tom Thibodeau will give his players a strict 10 p.m. curfew in Brazil.

“C’mon,’’ Noah finally replied, laughing and shaking his head.

Noah and the night life in Rio de Janeiro are a match made in heaven. It’s Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, or Thibodeau in a film room all night.

“We’re going to Brazil, man,’’ Noah said of the four-day trip that includes a preseason game against the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

It isn’t Noah’s first trip to Rio, ­either.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ Noah said. “It’s a beautiful culture. Great music, great people, a lot of energy and you know we’re going there to represent the Bulls. It’s as good as it gets. We’re going to work hard and enjoy the trip.’’

The “work hard’’ part was all that Thibodeau cared about.

“It’s critical for us to know it’s a business trip,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’re not going there to party.’’

Well, maybe Thibodeau isn’t.

But it actually will be an important week for the Bulls. The first order of business is getting Noah healthy. The All-Star center practiced the last few days but didn’t play in the first two preseason games because of a strained groin. The plan was for him to practice with contact this week in Rio and hopefully play in the game Saturday.

Then there’s the matter of figuring out which free agent invited to camp is going to win the 13th and final roster spot.

Guard-forward Dahntay Jones was waived Tuesday, putting the roster at 15. Center Dexter Pittman, forward D.J. White and guard Mike James are in the running for the final spot.

Pittman and James looked good in the five minutes they played ­Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies. But Thibodeau hasn’t seen any separation. Even if there was, the final spot could be determined by what the Bulls need more than how the players perform.

“They’ve done a good job, all of them, and part of that equation is also looking at the guys that we have to determine what our greatest need will be,’’ Thibodeau said. “So I think that we need to find that answer out also, and probably first.”

Finally, the road trip gives the players a chance to come together. Though there’s a core group that dominates the starting lineup, the Bulls are expected to have at least four new faces on the roster.

With the bar set at preventing the Miami Heat from winning a third consecutive championship, team bonding is just what Thibodeau ­ordered.

“To me, this is getting ready for the season, and whatever the circumstances that are in front of you, you have to handle them and handle them well,’’ Thibodeau said. “We had the week of training camp, then we hit the road, then we have the trip [to Brazil].

“I like being on the road early. I think it does give you an opportunity to team-build. Most important thing is to get your foundation, build the right habits and keep improving.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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