Joakim Noah will return to the Bulls (48-18) starting lineup after missing a game with the flu, but Carlos Boozer will miss his fourth game with a sprained ankle, K.C. Johnson reported Thursday at the Chicago Tribune. Kurt Thomas will start at center with Noah at power forward against the Nets (22-43) in New Jersey on Thursday.
With pain remaining, the team is siding with "caution" to prevent a more long-term setback, K.C. added:
"I tried to do a little bit more, but there's still pain in one area," Boozer said. "I'll see how it feels (Friday). It's tough. I know it's getting better, but it's not ready. We're just trying to be smart about it."Indeed, the Bulls are erring on the side of caution with Boozer because they have big-man depth and goals for a long playoff run."The big thing with him is he's getting better each day, and we don't want this thing to be reoccurring," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We want him completely healthy before he plays. He's getting better and better each day. So whether it's today, tomorrow, a week from now, it's when he's 100 percent. I don't want this injury lingering."It's the smart thing to do right now because of where we are in the season and in terms of our preparation. I don't want it to be where he comes back, plays a game, sits a game. And we feel very good about our bench and our depth."
With the Celtics' (48-18) 92-80 win over the Pacers (29-39) on Wednesday, they are now tied with the Bulls for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, with the tiebreaker currently in Boston's favor. These games are very important for the Bulls and the Nets are playing very well, but risking more severe ligament damage to the ankle of someone on whom the Bulls depend so much is reckless.