Hawks-Bulls Preview

Just as the Chicago Bulls were closing in on their first

division title in 13 years, Carlos Boozer went down with an ankle

injury.

Having one of their leaders hurt is nothing new for the

Bulls.

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

the lineup.

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

Atlanta.

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

10 games.

“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

games.