Bulls’ Boozer out, Deng starts instead

Carlos Boozer missed the Chicago Bulls’ game against the Atlanta Hawks because of a sprained left ankle, while Luol Deng started despite a bruised left thigh.

Both players were hurt in Wednesday’s win at Charlotte. Deng took a knee from the Bobcats’ Gerald Henderson and Boozer limped off the court after an awkward landing following a late flagrant foul by Kwame Brown. Boozer remains day to day, with the Bulls hosting Utah on Saturday.

”He’s much better today, but he still has a long way to go,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”We’ll take a look tomorrow, and we’ll see how he’s feeling.”

He said the swelling in Boozer’s ankle ”went down significantly today. We’re hopeful he continues to make the same progress.”

Thibodeau chose to start veteran Kurt Thomas, who had not played since Feb. 23, in Boozer’s place instead of Taj Gibson in part because he liked the way the second unit has performed.

The injury to Boozer, who’s second on the team at 18.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, is a blow for the Bulls, but it’s one they believe they can withstand at least for now.

It comes at a time when they’re pushing Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls had won 11 of 13 entering Friday’s game and trailed the Celtics by 1 1/2 games, but they’ve fared well when they’ve been shorthanded.

They got off to a 9-6 start while Boozer was recuperating from a broken bone in his right hand and then went 22-8 with Joakim Noah sidelined by a torn ligament in his right thumb. That includes a stretch in which the Bulls took two of three without their top two big men, with Boozer nursing a sprained left ankle.

”We’ve had injuries out front, with Carlos being out before and then Joakim,” Thibodeau said. ”We feel like we have five quality bigs up front.”