"Joakim was everywhere," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the Bulls' 96-87 victory in New Orleans.
"It felt good to get back to work," he said. "Everybody is excited about the second half of the season."
Save for the rehabbing Derrick Rose, the Bulls are whole.
Kirk Hinrich returned after missing seven games with an infected elbow, and his fingerprints also were all over this victory. He scored just five points on 2-for-7 shooting but had 10 assists with only two turnovers.
Thibodeau was impressed with how Hinrich's distribution resulted in starters getting their right number of shots. Noah hit 6 of 11, Luol Deng knocked down 7 of 13 and Carlos Boozer sank 8 of 16.
"He did a good job of getting everybody involved," Boozer said. "For being out as long as he was out, (his return) was almost seamless."
Hinrich and Noah executed a textbook give-and-go that gave the Bulls a 66-54 lead. And then Hinrich drove, attracted two defenders and fed Noah, who got fouled.
Hinrich's enthusiasm spilled into the defensive end, where he stumbled coming off a screen and was called for a foul. He protested with official Sean Wright long enough to get a technical foul, but no damage was done. Ryan Anderson missed the free throw.
Hinrich later fed Boozer on a pick-and-roll that ended with an uncontested slam.
Said Noah: "We're really happy to have him back because Kirk played huge for us. He does a lot you don't see on the stat sheet that really helps our club."
Also not obvious from the stat sheet were two categories — intensity and toughness.
The Bulls displayed both in the fourth quarter when they forced seven turnovers in the final six minutes. During a seven-minute-plus stretch, they allowed just five points.
"I thought they were physically tougher than we were," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "They were in our face all night long."
Noah earned props from Thibodeau for returning from Houston with the right attitude.
"The biggest thing was he practiced great (Monday) and (Tuesday) morning," he said. "That told me he would be ready to go. That's what we expect from him and that's what we need. It was great to see his approach coming back off the break."