Chicago Sun-Times

February 2013 Archives

The Wall Street Journal studied 20 NBA players age 26 or younger who tore their ACL since 2003 and found those players shooting percentages increased four percent in the second season after returning from injury.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said he also expects Derrick Rose to be a more dangerous shooter when he returns.

"That's Derrick," Thibodeau said. "Each year he has gotten significantly better. He keeps driving himself. That's his nature. You'll see that throughout his career. I do expect his shooting to improve. I expect all aspects of his game will improve. That's what he has done so far."

The inaugural meeting between Rose and Cleveland's second-year point guard Kyrie Irving remains on hold. Irving was an all-star this season but has yet to face Rose. Injuries to both players prevented a meeting last season.

Irving didn't play against the Bulls on Tuesday because of a sore knee.

"My greatest hope is that No. 1 Derrick Rose comes back and he comes back the old Derrick Rose," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "If that happens, and they get a chance to match up, it will be very interesting. We're all looking forward to that."

Luol Deng was asked what advice he would give teammate Joakim Noah, who is making his first All-Star appearance.

"It's not that serious," said Deng, who was named to the team for the second straight year. "Have fun. He's going to have fun. Everyone has fun on the bench. When the game starts you just have to relax and forget about it."

They say you can easily pick out the first-time NBA All-Stars because they try to hard.

Deng said it was the opposite for him last year when Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was coaching the Eastern Conference team. He said Thibodeau was upset with him because he didn't play hard enough.

"It gets more competitive than people think," Deng said. "At the start everybody is having fun and is happy to be there. Then, naturally, everyone wants to win and they start to mix it up."

Noah said isn't worried about fitting in on the floor.

"I'm just enjoying it," he said. "I'm pretty comfortable with who I am. I don't need to impress anybody. I'm just having a good time and taking it all in."

HOUSTON, Texas --- The torn ligament in Luol Deng's left wrist was major news at the end of last season but has generated zero headlines this year.

It's a satisfying development for Deng, especially given the angst surrounding his decision to compete in the Olympics last summer rather than undergo surgery.

"People say a lot of things sometimes without thinking about the actual person going through it," Deng said. "It's very easy to stand from far and say he shouldn't do this and he should do that.

"I felt like I could play. I felt like the pain was better, the wrist was improving and every decision I made I knew was the best decision for me and the team. I wouldn't do anything where I think I'm going to hurt myself or jeopardize the team. I'm just glad that I was able to play good enough to put the wrist talk behind me because for a while no matter what I did it was about my wrist. If I had a bad game, it was because of my wrist. It was not. I just played bad. It happens."

Deng said he feels a twinge of pain now and then but it doesn't prevent him from doing whatever he wants on a basketball court.

"I'll talk to the doctors more about it and we'll see what route we take," he said when asked if he'll undergo surgery this offseason.

HOUSTON, Texas --- Luol Deng worries about Derrick Rose being misunderstood. The Bulls forward used his platform at All-Star Weekend to make sure his teammate's message is clear.

When Rose said earlier this week he wouldn't mind not coming back this season it wasn't because he doesn't want to return as soon as possible. Deng said Rose is doing everything he can to get his surgically repaired knee into playing shape as soon as possible.

"I want fans to understand that this guy wants to play more than anyone," Deng said. "He wants to play more than you and he wants to play more than the fans. He's working hard. He's in the gym before everyone. When everyone is leaving he's still taking care of his knee. He really wants to come back and be better than he was."

When or if Rose returns this season will be the dominant theme of the second half for the Bulls. When he does make the decision, Deng said it won't be only with himself in mind.

"Because of what he has done and the kind of person he is, people have to trust the decisions he makes," Deng continued. "He's going to make the best decision for him and the best decision for the team."

Noah vs. KG - Round 4

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joakim-noah-kevin-garnett-2013-nba-570x463.jpgBOSTON - There have been some improbable friendships forged between players coming out of the NBA All-Star Weekend.
Don't expect that to happen with Eastern Conference teammates Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett anytime soon.
The two get reacquainted tonight in Boston for Round 4 of the season series, and with some bad feelings brought onto the court.
It was after the Jan. 18 win in the Garden that Noah was again critical of Garnett and the way he carries himself on the court.
"[I was] just playing defense," Noah said then. "Just playing sound defense, just contesting his shots. He's a helluva competitor. He's always on some bulls---. Always on some bulls--- ... Just trying to throw elbows. Cheap shots, just trying to get you off your game. But he's a vet. He's been doing this a long time, but it's all right.''
During the 2010 playoffs, Noah also took some shots at Garnett.
"He's a dirty player, man," Noah said at the time. "He's a dirty player. That's messed up, man ... I'm hurting right now because of an elbow he threw. It's unbelievable. He's a dirty player. It's one thing to be competitive and compete and all that, but don't be a dirty player.''
Noah was a bit more guarded at the Wednesday shootaround.
"I don't know if you would call it a relationship,'' Noah said. "He's a hell of a competitor and I know he's going to do everything he can to try and win a basketball game. He'll do whatever it takes. And we feel the same way, so it will be a fun game tonight.''
Asked flat-out of he respects Garnett, Noah responded, "Yeah, I do respect him. I think he's a hell of a competitor. Yeah, I respect him.''
A bigger concern for Noah than KG elbows, however, is the plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Noah said after the San Antonio loss that they needed to come up with a better plan to get him ready for games, as well as get him practice time, and that search still continues.
"Trial by fire,'' Noah said of that process.
As far as participating in this weekend's All-Star Game, Noah didn't want to look that far ahead.
"I think I'm worried about the game right now, focus on the Boston Celtics,'' he said. "It's a big game, last game before the All-Star Break. Want to set the tone.''

DRoseie.jpgBOSTON - Joakim Noah isn't a doctor and doesn't pretend to know more than the team physcians, but when the Bulls center was asked during the Wednesday shootaround if he thinks Derrick Rose could actually sit out the rest of the season because of the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in his left knee last April, Noah didn't hesitate to respond.
"Nope,'' Noah said very matter-of-factly. "I think he'll be back when he's ready, whenever that is.''
In Noah's opinion, "whenever that is,'' is still during this season at some point.
Luol Deng took a little more of a political approach to it, especially considering Deng felt the pressure to return from a right tibia injury back in the 2008-09 season that was first diagnosed as a bruise but was later discovered to be a stress fracture.
"You just got to let him decide,'' Deng said of Rose. "He knows his body better than anybody. I think everyone wants to see him back, and sometimes when you do that you've got to think of the positive and the negative - where we're at as a team, how he's feeling. For me, and someone who has been through injuries - not an ACL but my tibia - you've got to really make a decision for yourself and how you feel. Not how everyone else is pressuring you and what everyone is saying.''
Rose spoke to USA Today earlier this week, and in the article said, "I'm not coming back until I'm 100 percent. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready.''
As far as talking to the local Chicago media on Wednesday about his status, that request was still a no.

Mich_Ave_PH_blurb_joakim.jpgTen days until the trade deadline, and the rumors continue to swirl around the Bulls. Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton ... who goes, who stays?
In all likelihood, the Bulls will be very quiet come trade deadline, knowing they could be landing one of the premiere players in the league maybe as soon as Feb. 26, when the Cleveland Cavaliers come to town and Derrick Rose can write the final chapter of "The Return.''
Until then?
"I think it's the time of the year where all that stuff happens, and most of it is generated by you guys,'' Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the trade rumors as the Feb. 21 deadline approaches. "So we don't overreact to that. It's sort of the nature of the beast now. For every 100 trades that get talked about, one gets done. It's not important. We just focus on what we have to do.''
What they have to do tonight is play a red-hot Spurs team, and do so without Kirk Hinrich, who will remain out with the elbow infection.

Three keys for the game against San Antonio:

1. Need the All-Stars - Luol Deng will be there tonight. As far as the other All-Star in Joakim Noah, well, he remains a game-time decision, according to Thibodeau. Noah was limited in the Monday morning shootaround, participated in the walk-through, and did do some shooting and drills around the basket, with the plantar fasciitis in his right foot still slowing him. It's about pain tolerance for Noah this week, as he is still looking to participate in his first All-Star Weekend starting Friday. With the Spurs and then Boston on the schedule before then, the Bulls could use him, even in restricted minutes.

2. The Italian import - The Bulls did get some good news on the injury front with Marco Belinelli, who is expected to play against San Antonio, as he works through a sore right ankle. As good as the Spurs are defensively, stretching them out is key and also Belinelli's specialty.

3. Getting defensive - The Bulls defense is coming off an inconsistent road trip, and will have no room for a letdown against the Spurs. San Antonio is too experienced and too good for that.
"[Head coach] Pop [Gregg Popovich] has established a great system, the core of the team has been intact for a long time,'' Thibodeau said of the Spurs. "When you look at [Tim] Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, [Tony] Parker, and then the rest of the parts are basically interchangeable. It's a great system, a great style of play, well balanced. They put a premium on shooting, character, toughness, and it's reflected in everything they do. They're pretty much the gold standard.''

Marco Belinelli will not play against the Nuggets on Thursday night.

Belinelli twisted his ankle during Monday night's loss to the Pacers. Although he returned to the court after sustaining the injury in that game, and finished with a game-high 24 points, he did very little in practice Wednesday and even less in Thursday's shootaround, according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

Belinelli's absence coupled with Kirk Hinrich not making the trip because of an elbow injury could mean more playing time for Jimmy Butler, Marquis Teague and Daequan Cook.

Veteran NBA coach George Karl is impressed with Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls.

"Chicago is maybe the most efficient team in basketball," the Nuggets coach said. "They play both ends of the court with dedication and they execute very well. They are going to try to keep the pace of the game down. When they get [Derrick] Rose back, they're going to be very much in the top two or three teams in the eastern conference.

Can the Bulls win the East?

"If Derrick Rose comes back healthy there's a chance," he said. "They were playing last year at a very high level before he got hurt. I'm always going to give the champs the benefit of the doubt but if they can get back healthy I think they would be second most dangerous team to Miami in the East."

Karl said preparing for the Bulls is like preparing for a Jeff Van Gundy team, which is only natural since Thibodeau was an assistant for Van Gundy. He also compared Thiobdeau to coaching greats Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan.

"There's not a lot of nonsense out there," he said. "There's not a lot of lazy basketball. There's a lot of serious basketball going on for most of the game. It's an effort game. You have to match their energy on the boards. We have to find a way to get our tempo into the game against a team that probably wants to execute more than run with us. It's a fun challenge. ... You're not going to beat this team by a big number. You can beat them but you're usually not going to beat them by a big number."

The Bulls held their shootaround at the Pepsi Center after the Nuggets left the floor. Thibodeau and Karl spent several minutes talking.

"He's one of the great coaches in this league," Thibodeau said. "To do it the way he's done it for all these years, it tells you how good he is and he always finds a way, no matter what team he has -- whether it was in Seattle, Milwaukee, here --it's always the same. His teams play hard, they're going to play unselfishly, he has his own style of play and I just love the way he is as a guy, too. What you see is what you get. He's true to himself. He's a great teacher and to have the success that he has had throughout his career, that says everything."

Joakim Noah said he will try to play against the Nuggets on Thursday night after missing three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

"I'll be all right," he said.

That's good new for the Bulls. Not only have the Nuggets won seven straight but they are one of the top rebounding teams in the league.

"Rebounding is such a big component," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They're so quick to the board, so it requires a multiple-effort mentality. You can never relax. We're going to have to finish our defense, keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots, rebound. But then we have to execute offensively."

Thibodeau said Noah and Marco Belinelli, who twisted his ankle against the Pacers on Monday night, will be game-time decisions.

Belinelli didn't do much in practice on Wednesday, Thibodeau said.

Carlos Boozer has recovered from a hamstring injury and will play. Kirk Hinrich (elbow) didn't make the trip to Denver.

DENVER --- If only they were healthy, injured Bulls players might be able to beat their healthy teammates in a game of five-on-five.

A team with Derrick Rose (knee) at point guard, Kirk Hinrich (elbow) at shooting guard, Marco Belinelli (ankle) at small forward, Carlos Boozer (hamstring) at power forward and Joakim Noah (foot) at center could win a lot of games.

All the aforementioned except Hinrich, who didn't make the trip, practiced at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday as coach Tom Thibodeau tried to get his players adjusted to the altitude before Thursday night's game against the streaking Nuggets.

How much and how effectively they practiced was another matter entirely.

Noah did some shooting Tuesday and said the plantar fasciitis in his right foot feels as good as it has after missing three games. He planned to do what he could Wednesday and wait and see how his foot responds during Thursday's shootaround.

"It's feeling better everyday," Noah said. "[But] I think it's something I'm going to have to deal with for a little while."

Belinelli was expected to be limited after twisting his ankle in Monday night's loss to the Pacers. Boozer returned from a hamstring injury in that game and has suffered no setbacks. Rose continues his seemingly endless rehabilitation from ACL surgery, which makes what the Bulls have accomplished this season even more remarkable.

Even veteran Rip Hamilton, who has seen much during his 3-year career, is impressed.

"You can get on a team and guys won't pass to other guys the ball because whoever is making the most money is supposed to get all the shots and the rookies aren't supposed to shoot," Hamilton said. "They are just supposed to pass. Here, you're only as good as your teammate. If your teammate is not playing well and struggling you're going to be struggling. If your teammate is playing well you're going to be playing well. As long as we stick with that good things will happen for us."

If Belinelli can't play, Thibodeau might bring rookie Marquis Teague off the bench or use veteran Daequan Cook, who impressed Thibodeau in limited minutes against the Pacers.

Backup center Nazr Mohammed has played sparingly with Noah out while forward Taj Gibson has been logging major minutes, although Thibodeau said that could change, too.

"A lot of it is matchups," Thibodeau said of Mohammed's lack of minutes of late. "The other thing you have to factor in is you're not just down one player. You're down an entire unit basically so you're looking for different groups that can play well together so it's not one guy you're factoring in but a number of guys you're taking a look at."

Bad game? Bulls need to step it up to overtake Pacers

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Bulls vs. Pacers.jpgWithout Derrick Rose, the Bulls have an advantage that doesn't get much attention. Almost every opponent gets the Bulls' best game -- coach Tom Thibodeau demands it. But the Bulls don't get every opponent's best game. It's hard to get up for the Bulls without Derrick Rose.

The Indiana Pacers under coach Frank Vogel are one of the exceptions. Maybe the biggest exception. In their quest to become the most credible challenger to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers see the Bulls as the team to beat -- whether Rose is playing or not.

That above all else was the impetus behind the Pacers' 111-101 victory over the Bulls on Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that moved the Pacers (29-19) ahead of the Bulls (29-19) for the No. 3 seed in the East. The Pacers, who came in ranked 29th in the NBA in scoring (92.0 points per game), hit their first six shots and nine of their first 10 to take a 13-2 lead and ended up with 111. The Bulls have their bad nights. But when they allow 111 points to a team averaging 92, it's more than just a bad night.

''[The Bulls] are division champs,'' said Pacers forward David West, who scored 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting against the Bulls on Monday night. ''We're chasing them, so we just approached this game know how well they are coached and how well they play. They're just a tough team and we knew we'd have to bring our best effort.''

In West and 6-8 guard Paul George, the Pacers have two players who could give the Bullls trouble even when they're on their game defensively. George is averaging 17.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and made the all-star team this season.

But an even more important factor the Pacers have going for them against the Bulls is that they respect them like no other team in the league does.

''They play the right way and they share the ball,'' Vogel said.

Vogel seems to be the closest thing to Thibodeau in the NBA next to Thibodeau. He seems to have the Thibodeau knack for getting his players to embrace his approach -- from playing defense to respecting the Bulls with or without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich.

''We knew what they were capable of regardless of who was out, who was playing or who was on their reserve list,'' George said. ''We know [they're] coming to challenge us. We did a great job of dialing in on all their guys.''

They weren't kidding. The Pacers were dialed in on every Bull, from Luol Deng (13 points on 4-of-18 shooting) to Jimmy Butler (10 points on 3-of-8 shooting). The only Bulls player who shot better than 50 percent from the field on Monday night was Marco Belinelli, who suffered a sprained ankle in the first half but returned after getting treatment in the locker room and scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter.

The 6-9, 250-pound West, who is averaging 17.3 points per game after averaging 12.8 points per game last season when he was coming off ACL surgery, isn't as talented as Danny Granger, the Pacers' all-star forward who is about to return from a knee injury that has kept him out all season. But he brings an element to the Pacers that Granger does not, one that becomes a bigger factor in the playoffs.

''He's mentally tough, physically tough. That's the way he's been since he's come in the league,'' Thibodeau said. ''Great leader. He gives them a lot of toughness. Big shot maker. The guy's had a terrific career. You can see he's back here he guys had a terrific career. You can see he's back to where he was before.''

The Bulls didn't lose Monday night because they were lax. ''It comes down to plays made at the end,'' said Carlos Boozer, who returned to the starting lineup after missing three games and finished with 10 points on 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting with five rebounds. ''We had a chance to win the game towards the end but things didn't go our way.''

''We're disappointed with the way we finished. But it was still a winnable game,'' Thibodeau said. ''We got a tough whistle [on an out-of-bounds call with the Pacers leading 98-94 with 1:35 left]. That happens. That's part of it. We have to have the mental toughness to get through that. We can't allow our frustration to lead us into next executing or recklessly fouling. Well learne from it.''

What they should have learned is that they're going to have to reach a new level to beat the Pacers. When the Bulls are better, the Pacers look capable or raising their game as well. Do the Bulls understand that?

''It's a rivalry. We understand that,'' Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. ''Every time we step on the court, these two teams have something to prove. They're trying to win the division. We're trying to win the division. We're trying to get better, help our teams move forward. And right now they got two wins on us, feeling good. But we're looking forward to playing them again late.''

Implicit in that statement is that Derrick Rose figures to be on the court then. The Bulls probably know better than to lean on that as the counter to the challenge presented by a good team that, like them, is only getting better.

Nate the Great Robinson.jpgThe NBA's Player of the Week Award is inconsequential chump-change hardware for most of the recipients. Kevin Durant has won it four times already this season. LeBron James has won three times after winning six times last season.

But for Bulls guard Nate Robinson, it's an accomplishment with a little more meaning. Most of Robinson's acclaim in his seven-year NBA career has come from his unique athletic ability and effusive personality -- dunking and blocking shots at 5-foot-9 or animatedly celebrating a spectacular play.

On Monday, Robinson was honored for helping his team win. The veteran point guard was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Robinson averaged 17.8 points and 6.8 assists with 2.5 steals in four games against the Charlotte Bobcats (15 points, seven rebounds, four assists), the Milwaukee Bucks (24 points on 9-of-11 shooting), the Brooklyn Nets (12 points, 11 assists, two turnovers) and the Atlanta Hawks (20 points, 4-of-6 three-pointers, eight assists, three steals). The Bulls went 3-1.

''It's a byproduct of the team winning. It's the entire team playing well,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''Of course he was terrific. It helps our team get recognized. That's what I'm pleased with -- it's the winning that helps them get recognized.''

Hinrich out; Boozer close; Noah looking to Thursday

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Noah and Boozer.jpgCarlos Boozer could play against the Indiana Pacers tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse after missing the last three games with a sore hamstring. But point guard Kirk Hinrich (elbow) will miss his third consecutive game and center Joakim Noah, who has missed the last two games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is looking forward to returning Thursday against the Nuggets in Denver.

Boozer and Noah will be a ''game-time decision'' according to coach Tom Thibodeau, but Boozer sounded much more optimistic he might be able to play.

''I feel good,'' Boozer said Monday morning prior to the Bulls shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. ''Just treatment. A lot more movement. If it feels good, I'll be out there.''

Noah said he did some shooting on Sunday but still is not running or jumping and does not expect to play Monday night.

''I'm moving in the right direction,'' Noah said. ''Hopefully by Thursday I'll be ready to go.''

Noah, Boozer, Hinrich out for Bulls vs. Hawks

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Thibs.jpgThe Bulls will be short-handed again tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich out.

Hinrich will be out at least a week after having his injured elbow ''cleaned out'' Friday in Chicago. He is not with the team. Noah is with the team but was in street clothes and did not participate in the Bulls' pre-game warm up. Boozer received treatment for his sore hamstring and warmed up lightly before the game but did not start.

The injury situation puts the Bulls in a tough spot against the Hawks (26-19). The Bulls are coming off an 93-89 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in New York on Friday night, with Taj Gibson (48 minutes), Luol Deng (47:56), Nate Robinson (41) and Jimmy Butler (40) playing 40 minutes or more.

The Hawks have not played since Wednesday night and have played just one game in the last six games.

Despite that disadvantage, coach Tom Thibodeau is expecting a supreme effort from his team, as always.

''Just got to be ready,'' Thibodeau said. ''Atlanta's a tough team. We have to put the work into it. Can't take short cuts. We've got to find a way.''

Asked if he expected the players with 40-plus minutes to pace themselves, Thibodeau's response was predictable.

''Nope,'' he said. ''Play.''

Joakim Noah kneeling.jpgLast season, Richard Hamilton missed 33 of the Bulls' 66 regular-season games, leaving the lineup five times.

Today, he is the reigning iron man of the Bulls. Hamilton's 19 consecutive starts is the longest current streak on the team. Luol Deng and Taj Gibson are next -- with three each.

That's how bad the Bulls' injury situation has become after Joakim Noah (foot), Carlos Boozer (hamstring) and Kirk Hinrich (elbow) missed Friday night's 93-89 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Suddenly, Derrick Rose is one of the healthiest players on the team.

It is unlikely if Noah, Boozer or Hinrich will play tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.

''[They're] day-to-day,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. ''We want them to get healthy. But you can't wait on them. They have to take care of getting better. Guys [who are healthy] have to focus on improving and get ready for the next game. We had more than enough to win [Friday night]. We didn't get it done.''

Thibodeau said he had ''no idea'' when the injured players would return. But all three have situations that usually require rest beyond the recovery of the injury, so Noah, Boozer and Hinrich could be day-to-day for a week or more.

That complicates the situation for tonight's game against the Hawks, because our players played 40 or more minutes against the Nets -- Taj Gibson (48), Luol Deng (47:56), Nate Robinson (41) and Jimmy Butler (40). The Hawks have played one game in the last six days -- a 93-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

Loss to Nets not a net loss for short-handed Bulls

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Thibodeau complaining.jpgThere's no question why the Bulls lost Friday night.

In their 46th game of the season, Tom Thibodeau started a lineup against the Brooklyn Nets that had not spent one second on the floor together previously this season.

By the time Thibodeau figured out that the Nets' quickness made Nazr Mohammed a liability, the Bulls were down 17-8.

The Bulls recovered to take a 67-63 lead into the fourth quarter. But the reliance on a short-handed lineup took its toll. By the fourth quarter, Taj Gibson (36 minutes), Nate Robinson (29) and Jimmy Butler (28) had already played more minutes than their season averages. In the end, Gibson, who averages 21 minutes a game, played all 48. Robinson, who averages 22 minutes, played more than 41. Even Luol Deng, who averages 39.6 minutes per game, played all but four seconds of the game.

Predictably, the Bulls faltered in the final quarter, falling behind 81-74 with 5:30 to play. They rallied to get within 86-84 and 91-89 when Butler tipped a Nets inbounds pass to Deng for a easy basket with 15.9 seconds left. But former Bulls guard C.J. Watson hit two free throws with 11 seconds left as the Nets hung on for a 93-89 victory at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

It's pretty hard to win in the NBA when your entire roster has a salary cap number of less than $29 million -- particularly on the road against a 27-19 team. But the Bulls nearly did that Friday night.

Noah waiting at scorer's table.jpgAt the rate the Bulls are going, Derrick Rose might not recognize the team he re-joins later this season.

Though Rose keeps getting closer to a return from knee surgery, his teammates are starting to show the effects of a long NBA season even before the All-Star break. The Bulls will be without three starters Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets -- Kirk Hinrich (elbow), Joakim Noah (foot) and Carlos Boozer (hamstring).

Nate Robinson will start for Hinrich. Taj Gibson would likely start for Boozer and Nazr Mohammed will start for Noah.

''Next man up,'' Thibodeau said prior to Friday night's game against the Nets. ''We've been down this road before. He's out. Nate's in. Marquis [Teague], Marco, whoever. Just be ready.''

The Bulls have been dealing with injuries all season. As it stands now, Richard Hamilton, who missed 33 of 66 regular-season games with various injuries last season, has the longest current streak of consecutive starts with 18, followed by Luol Deng (2) and Gibson (2). Boozer had a 123-game streak snapped when he missed Wednesday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks because of a sore hamstring he suffered Monday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Carlos Boozer .jpgFew injuries go from day-to-day to week-to-week like a hamstring. But Bulls forward Carlos Boozer is hopeful his sore hamstring won't turn into a long-term ordeal.

''I don't think so,'' Boozer said Friday morning prior to the Bulls' shootaround at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. ''Even if I don't play tonight -- which I might play, but if I don't it shouldn't be more than a couple more days.''

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau officially -- habitually, actually -- listed Boozer as a game-time decision. Boozer said his hamstring was feeling better, but he didn't want to rush back into action.

''I'm all right. Hangin' in there,'' he said. ''It's a little bit better today. Still sore and stiff. [I'll] warm up see how it feels. I'm going to be smart.

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