Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer Must Lead the Playoff Charge for Chicago Bulls

By Ryan Heckman
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls have been trying mightily to assure fans that the wheels are indeed not falling off and are still somewhat intact to make a playoff run. Saturday night, they took another huge hit losing Joakim Noah to injury yet again as they faced off with the Indiana Pacers. Noah has been battling a plantar fasciitis injury off and on for a couple of years now.

While Noah has been fighting through the pain for the majority of the season, coach Tom Thibodeau said his big man is also unlikely to play tomorrow for his second consecutive game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Thibodeau added that Noah may not even make the trip with the team.

As disheartening as this news may have been for the Bulls, they didn’t let that stop them from gutting out a win against one of their biggest Eastern conference rivals.

Thibodeau preached after the game that this is exactly how the Bulls need to play in order to be successful with a handful of lingering injuries. “We have to do it collectively. A lot of guys stepped up,” said Thibodeau.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer were front and center in this one, as they chipped in 20 and 18 points, respectively. Boozer notched a double-double with 10 rebounds while Deng pulled in seven of his own.

If Chicago is going to make some noise heading into the playoffs, these two are going to have to be on their “A” game. The offense absolutely has to start through Boozer at the beginning of games. He has proved he can have a very successful night shooting the ball if he gets going early. When he’s hitting that pretty jump shot of his, the Bulls are good to go on offense. Having a big man like Boozer who can draw some of the bigger defenders out of the paint with a jumper like his is invaluable to the Bulls.

Deng, meanwhile, will continue to be Chicago’s premier defender while doing all the little things on offense. He’s great at moving without the ball and helping set up his teammates with open looks. A threat when also slashing to the hoop, Deng can do a little bit of everything. He’s even been known to knock down a few three point attempts if left open.

With Boozer also manning the boards in the way he is capable of, it makes things easier on Chicago. Both Boozer and Taj Gibson are vital to the Bulls’ success inside if Noah were to be out longer than anticipated. Offensive rebounding will be key. The Bulls have killed themselves by having way too many “one and done” possessions. This is where Gibson will have to be at his best, along with Boozer.

Deng has been dealing with an injury of his own for over a year now, electing not to get surgery last summer on a torn ligament in his wrist. If that doesn’t tell you something about his toughness this season, I don’t know what will. Thibodeau has also been using Deng more than just about any other player in the NBA has been used this year, with Deng averaging around 40 minutes a night.

Both Boozer and Deng are going to be an extremely important part of this Bulls team down the stretch, especially if they have any hope to not just make the playoffs, but to advance further than the very first round. Thibodeau will have to be at his best also, giving his guys the right amount of rest and using the correct substitutions when necessary. The Bulls aren’t as deep as they were last year, but their one constant remains in Thibodeau’s coaching. He will have his guys ready to go to war, with or without Derrick Rose in the lineup. In this league, you never know what will happen. Here’s to you, Bulls fans, in hopes that your team lives to fight another day come playoff time.

Ryan Heckman is a Minnesota Timberwolves writer and NBA contributor for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google

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