Nets-Bulls Preview

Joakim Noah feels like he’s running on needles and Joe Johnson

can probably sympathize.

The Bulls and Nets resume their first-round series in Chicago on

Thursday after splitting the first two games in Brooklyn, and both

teams have key players battling a similar injury.

Noah remains hobbled by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and

Johnson is dealing with it in his left one. He sat out practice on

Wednesday and is a game-time decision, meaning the Nets could be

without one of their top scorers.

”We have a lot of guys we can lean on,” Brook Lopez said. ”We

have to obviously worry about playing better defense, playing with

better energy and tenacity. I think a lot will depend on how our

frontcourt reacts to what they’re throwing at us.”

Some of that might hinge on just how much Noah can contribute

for the Bulls.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls’ center participated in most

of Wednesday’s practice and there were no setbacks after playing

about 25 minutes in Game 2 on Monday.

Noah provided a big spark in that one with 11 points and 10

rebounds, and the Bulls pulled even in the series. Thibodeau

indicated he will remain on a minutes limit after playing about 14

in each of the previous three games.

Noah’s still trying to work his way back after missing time down

the stretch with an injury that had given him trouble in the past

and cropped up again around midseason.

”It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while

you’re playing,” Noah said. ”You can imagine. You need to jump.

You need to run. You need to do a lot of things while you’re

playing basketball. You don’t want needles on your feet,

right?”

It’s not exactly an unfamiliar feeling for Noah, given his

history. The most recent bouts with the injury have caused him to

miss 15 games since the start of February.

He sat out eight straight late in the regular season before

playing against Detroit on April 7. He then missed the next four

and got in about 14 minutes in the final two regular-season

games.

His status for this series was in question after he acknowledged

last week that he was in pain, and the way he struggled in Game 1,

it didn’t look like he would be able to contribute much. But there

he was in Game 2, playing a key role as the Bulls shook off an ugly

loss to tie the series.

”It’s not time to exhale right now,” Noah said. ”I think that

we’ve dealt with adversity very well this year. Every time we got

hit with a punch, we always responded pretty well.”

The biggest blow came late in Game 1 of the playoffs last year.

They lost Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the

left knee and wound up bowing out to Philadelphia in the first

round after capturing the No. 1 seed.

He hasn’t played since then, and his status has been a running

soap opera this season.

While their superstar’s been recovering, the Bulls have seen

just about every key part of their rotation get banged up at some

point, yet they’re still standing.

Now, they have a chance to grab the lead after seizing homecourt

advantage in this series, and even though they’re still dealing

with a dinged-up Noah, Brooklyn isn’t completely healthy,

either.

The Bulls aren’t buying into the idea that Johnson will sit out,

though.

Thibodeau basically rolled his eyes and said, ”Oh, he’ll play,

don’t worry.”

And Chicago’s Jimmy Butler added: ”I’m sure he’ll rest up and

be ready.”

Whether Johnson plays or not, the Nets can’t afford to let the

Bulls dictate the tempo and seal Williams out of the lane the way

they did on Monday.

Brooklyn shot about 35 percent in the game and was 4 of 21 on

3-pointers. Williams was particularly bad, hitting just 1 of 9

shots and missing all five from long range while scoring just eight

after pouring in 22 in the series opener.

But the Nets have played well on the road, going 23-18, and

Chicago had more losses at home than any other playoff team, with a

24-17 record at the United Center.

”We’ve been through our ups and downs to get this far,”

Johnson said. ”We can’t let anything stop us. We’re a poised team

on the road, so now we have to go out on the road and get one. It’s

definitely going to be a challenge, but we’ll be prepared for it.

We missed a shots that we normally make Monday night. As I was

watching the tapes, I noticed that the shots didn’t go down like

they normally do. Now we have to keep shooting regardless. I’m sure

we’ll bounce back and play well.”