Bulls counting on Nazr Mohammed against Nets in playoffs

Chicago TribuneApril 19, 2013 

Favoring the secretive, no-edge-allowed style of Bill Belichick, minus the hoodie, Tom Thibodeau may not reveal his starters for Game 1 of the Bulls-Nets playoff series until, just before gametime Saturday in the Barclays Center at Brooklyn, N.Y.

But at least Thibodeau acknowledged this: The strong play of former Kentucky standout Nazr Mohammed down the stretch will factor into his decision whether to use the limited Joakim Noah as a starter or reserve. So, of course, will Noah's health, which remains day-to-day to the point his plantar fasciitis flaring further and causing him to miss action wouldn't surprise.

Coming off a season-high 17 points in the regular-season finale, Mohammed's value moves far beyond numbers. His screen-setting ability on offense and no-layups-allowed mentality on defense scores coaches' points in playoff basketball, if not on the scoreboard.

"That's the one plus from Jo and Taj (Gibson) being out. I think it got Nazr into rhythm," Thibodeau said. "He has done a great job all year just working even when he wasn't playing. The way he handled himself and kept working allowed him to be right and ready when the opportunity presented itself.

"It's good to know he's there. In the playoffs, a lot of things unfold. You may have injury or foul trouble or a matchup that's good. I think he's confident. His teammates are confident in him. And I like his experience."

Noah's health will remain a dominant storyline throughout the Bulls' playoff run, however long it lasts. The emotional center has admitted he will have to play through pain and he logged only 28 minutes, 42 seconds over the final two regular-season games after sitting 12 of the previous 13.

Asked to assess his game, Noah chose "rusty" and admitted treatment will be as much a part of his daily routine as teeth brushing.

"During the game, he feels fine," Thibodeau said. "I'm hopeful he'll get better and better as we go along. This is the type of injury where he will have to manage it as best he can. He's doing everything because he wants to be out there very badly. I'd prefer to have him for 30-plus minutes. Whatever he can give us is a huge plus."

Mohammed's playing time jumped from 6.4 minutes per game before the All-Star break to 16.4 per game after. Regardless of whether Noah starts or not, Mohammed will be used — and will have to be a factor against the talented Brook Lopez.

“No one feels sorry for us. No one cares that we’re not full strength," Mohammed said. "People couldn’t care less if Jo is not healthy. He’s a big part of our team. But I’m going to follow the game plan, play hard, leave it all on the floor and be physical.”

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