NBA

Boozer misses practice with toe injury

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DEERFIELD (AP)

The Chicago Bulls took two days to rest. Carlos Boozer needed a little more time.

The Bulls forward sat out Friday's practice because of turf toe on his right foot, and coach Tom Thibodeau said ''it's hard to say'' if he'll be ready for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta on Monday.

''I'm thinking he will be able to,'' Thibodeau said.

Boozer had an MRI that confirmed it was turf toe, a painful sprain to the ligaments around the big toe joint. If Boozer can't go, Kurt Thomas or Taj Gibson would likely start in his place. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose did practice and Thibodeau said the left ankle he sprained in the first round against Indiana was fine.

Losing Boozer would be a big blow to the Bulls, even though he did have difficulties against the Pacers. Chicago won that series in five games, but he got bogged down by foul trouble and struggled at times when he was on the court.

The toe problem surfaced in Game 5 against the Pacers on Tuesday, when he heard a pop while scoring his lone basket in the second quarter, and he finished with just two points on 1-for-5 shooting. That didn't stop the top-seeded Bulls from running away with a 116-89 victory, bringing a tougher-than-expected series to an emphatic close after the first four games went down to the wire.

Now, they're looking at the Hawks, who knocked off Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. It would certainly help the Bulls if they had a more effective Boozer.

That's something they've been missing for awhile, though.

Boozer really wasn't the same down the stretch after he missed five games in March with a sprained left ankle, and that pattern continued in the first round.

After hitting the 20-point mark just three times and finishing with 14 or fewer eight times over his final 14 regular-season games, he was out of sync against the Pacers.

His scoring dipped from 17.3 points per game in the regular season to 10.0 against the Pacers and he never really got into a rhythm.

He committed 19 fouls in the series and sat out the final 18 minutes, 17 seconds of Game 5 after getting whistled for the fourth time. He had picked up two early in the game, a familiar sight in the first round.

Even when he was on the court, he never looked comfortable.

He shot just 35.8 percent after hitting 51 percent in the regular season, and was really only a force in Game 2 with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Otherwise, he scored in single digits twice and shot 40 percent or less in four of the five games, and the Bulls are looking for more against the Hawks.

''I always say we're a better team when Carlos is (playing),'' Luol Deng said. ''Having Carlos is a big advantage for us.''

If they have to go without him, well, they've done it before.

The Bulls stormed to a league-best 62-20 record even though Boozer and Joakim Noah missed big chunks of the season, thanks to one of the deepest rotations not to mention an MVP favorite in Rose.

Boozer missed the first 15 games because of a broken bone in his right hand. Noah underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb in mid-December and missed 30 games.

They hardly played together the first four months, and both were limited down the stretch.

Like Boozer, Noah missed time because of a sprained ankle. In his case, it was the right one, and it cost him three games in late March and early April.

He looked better against Indiana, though, breaking out in a big way with 21 points and 14 rebounds in Game 4 and scoring 14 with eight boards in Game 5.

''No question it took longer than I thought to get back healthy,'' Noah said. ''I'm feeling healthier than I have in a long time. ... The rest in between games really helped me.''

The Bulls hope the time off will help Boozer, too.

''Knowing Carlos, I think he's going to play,'' Gibson said. ''I know he's going to play hard, going to play well.''

NOTES: Noah basically brushed off the criticism from Indiana's Danny Granger, who called him ''a dirty player'' after the Bulls knocked off the Pacers. Granger had accused Noah of throwing elbows that ultimately led to a technical foul for A.J. Price following an altercation with Tyler Hansbrough and an ejection by Josh McRoberts later in the game. ''I understand sometimes you're a little frustrated after a loss,'' Noah said. ''I wasn't doing anything that anybody else wouldn't have done.''

Tagged: Bulls, Pacers, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah

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