Just as the Chicago Bulls were closing in on their first
division title in 13 years, Carlos Boozer went down with an ankle
Having one of their leaders hurt is nothing new for the
Chicago will likely be without its starting power forward as it
looks to avenge its only loss in the last eight games Friday night
against the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls (45-18) have clinched the Central Division despite
playing only 18 games with their core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah,
Luol Deng and Boozer together. Chicago, which has won 14 of those
contests, looks like it will be short-handed again.
Boozer sprained his left ankle in Wednesday’s 101-84 win at
Charlotte when he was knocked to the floor on a flagrant foul by
Kwame Brown while going for a layup.
That win coupled with Indiana’s loss at Minnesota gave the Bulls
their first division crown since 1997-98, when they defeated Utah
in the NBA finals in Michael Jordan’s last season with Chicago.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday that Boozer, who missed three
games in January with a left ankle sprain, could be out “anywhere
from a couple days to a week.”
“Carlos brings a lot to this team,” said Noah, who returned Feb.
23 from a thumb injury that sidelined him for 30 games.
If Boozer can’t play, Taj Gibson will likely take his place in
Gibson started 14 games earlier in the season when Boozer was
out with a broken right hand and averaged 11.3 points and 6.9
rebounds. Gibson is also considered a better defender and often
subs for Boozer late in games.
“It’s going to hurt us but we’ve still got to go out there and
play the game,” Rose said.
The Bulls, winners of 17 of 18 at the United Center, might also
lean a bit more on Rose, who is averaging team highs of 24.5 points
and 8.1 assists.
The two-time All-Star is having an MVP-caliber season, but he
had a sloppy performance in last Wednesday’s 83-80 loss in
Chicago seemed to be well on its way to an easy win, jumping out
to a 14-0 advantage and leading by as many as 19. The Bulls,
however, were outscored 50-30 over the final two quarters.
The Hawks (37-27) took their first lead on Al Horford’s slam
with 29 seconds left. On the ensuing play, Horford stole the ball
from Rose and passed it ahead to Joe Johnson for a dunk.
The Bulls still had a chance to tie, but Rose and Kyle Korver
each missed a 3-pointer in the final four seconds. Rose missed 16
of 21 shots, turned the ball over six times and finished with 12
points – his third-lowest total of the season.
“The game was definitely on me,” Rose said afterward. “But I
guarantee it won’t happen again.”
Horford matched a career high with 31 points for Atlanta, which
has won eight of nine in the series.
While the Bulls have won four in a row since facing Atlanta to
pull within 1 1/2 games of Eastern Conference-leading Boston, the
Hawks have lost their last three.
In Tuesday’s 101-87 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta
shot 39.8 percent and fell behind by as many as 22. Horford had 17
points on 8-of-16 shooting as Atlanta lost for the seventh time in
“We tried to put a lot of emphasis on playing up-tempo, and it
seemed like we ran out of gas,” coach Larry Drew said.
It could be tough for the Hawks to push the ball against the
Bulls, who have allowed 81.5 points over their last eight