Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 2:52 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
After waiting until the season's stretch run for a fully-intact roster, Carlos Boozer's sprained left ankle put a slight damper on the increasingly optimistic Bulls' title hopes. Boozer's injury is similar to sprain the power forward suffered Jan. 15 against Miami, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Additionally, the Bulls' other starting small forward, Luol Deng, may not suit up Friday, due to a bruised left thigh. Deng's injury also happened against the Bobcats, when fellow Duke product Gerald Henderson caught him while making a wild circus shot underneath the basket.
The difference between Boozer's previous injury--after which Boozer missed Chicago's next three games--and this one is that not only is the national spotlight aimed directly at the surging Bulls, but in the midst of late-season jockeying for playoff position, the team simply cannot afford to lose their best low-post scoring option for an extended period of time. On the heels of the Celtics and just ahead of the Heat, Chicago is striving to overtake Boston and garner the Eastern Conference's top seed, but also has to be cautious of slipping to the third, which would pit them against a dangerous, new-look Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason were to begin today.
That means they can't afford any hiccups along the way--such as the one they had last week in Atlanta against Friday's visitor to the United Center, the Hawks--and despite Boozer's recent offensive struggles, the mere scoring presence of the two-time All-Star at least gives opponents pause and consideration to double-teaming, something that can't be said about the Bulls' other post players. Although the Bulls' late-season slate isn't the most challenging, this time of the year is when teams with slim playoff hopes pull off upsets and lottery-bound squads play loose and turn to the future, with young players that haven't been extensively scouted getting the opportunity to showcase their games and perhaps surprise a contender.
As for Deng, after a career that's been marred by injuries, he's been a iron man all season. The native of Sudan is the team's leader in minutes--and among the league's leaders--and hasn't missed a game the entire campaign, prompting Thibodeau to alternately call him the team's "glue" and joke with reporters about Deng's usage, something of a sore spot for the coach earlier this season.
While Deng would never admit it, he's motivated by past criticism of his health and playing all 82 games was a goal coming into the season, especially with the more versatile role he's played for this year's Bulls team. Under Thibodeau, the eighth-year pro's versatility has been maximized, as he's guarded power forwards in Boozer's absence, been given defensive-stopper responsibilities, served as the go-to scorer when paired with the team's underrated second unit and with his extended shooting range, has thrived in as a third scoring option and has been particularly valuable to All-Star point guard Derrick Rose's drive-and-kick game, but also to the entire squad, in all facets of the game.
That being said, the tough-minded Bulls have been through this before and are unlikely to fold just because they're a man (or two) down, an occurrence they've obviously experienced before. With a game-changer like league MVP favorite Rose, a no-excuses coach like Thibodeau and a focused supporting cast always eager to prove their worth when they have an opportunity to shine, a letdown due to any absence from Boozer is something that should be counted on.
Never have two three-word phrases--"day-to-day" and "game-time decision"--meant so much and so little. Here's banking on the Bulls, with revenge on their minds, using the adversity to their advantage.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.