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Bulls’ patchwork lineup challenges Tom Thibodeau

Bulls center Joakim Noah grabs rebound fourth quarter Chicago Bulls 93-85 wover Charlotte Bobcats Monday January 28 2013 United Center.

Bulls center Joakim Noah grabs a rebound in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 93-85 win over the Charlotte Bobcats Monday January 28, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 15, 2013 11:57PM



DENVER — If only they were healthy, injured Bulls players might beat their healthy teammates in a game of five-on-five.

A team with Derrick Rose (knee) at point guard, Kirk Hinrich (elbow) at shooting guard, Marco Belinelli (ankle) at small forward, Carlos Boozer (hamstring) at power forward and Joakim Noah (foot) at center could win a lot of games.

All the aforementioned except Hinrich, who didn’t make the trip, practiced at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday as coach Tom Thibodeau tried to get his players adjusted to the altitude before Thursday night’s game against the streaking Nuggets.

How much and how effectively they practiced was another matter.

Noah did some shooting Tuesday and said the plantar fasciitis in his right foot feels as good as it has since he sustained the injury. He planned to do what he could Wednesday and wait and see how his foot responds during Thursday’s shootaround.

“It’s feeling better every day,” said Noah, who has missed three games. “[But] I think it’s something I’m going to have to deal with for a little while.”

Belinelli was expected to be limited after twisting his ankle in Monday night’s loss to the Pacers. Boozer returned from a hamstring injury in that game and has suffered no setbacks. Rose continues his seemingly endless rehabilitation from ACL surgery.

The endless injuries make what the Bulls have accomplished more remarkable. Even veteran Rip Hamilton, who has seen much during his 13-year career, is impressed.

“You can get on a team and guys won’t pass to other guys the ball because whoever is making the most money is supposed to get all the shots and the rookies aren’t supposed to shoot,” Hamilton said. “They are just supposed to pass. Here, you’re only as good as your teammate. If your teammate is not playing well and struggling you’re going to be struggling. If your teammate is playing well you’re going to be playing well. As long as we stick with that good things will happen for us.”

If Belinelli can’t play, Thibodeau might bring rookie Marquis Teague off the bench or use veteran Daequan Cook, who impressed Thibodeau in limited minutes against the Pacers.

Backcourt defense will be critical against the Nuggets point guard tandem of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Lawson has averaged 20.3 points, 7.4 assists, 2.4 steals and is shooting 50 percent from the field and 54.2 percent from beyond the three-point arc during the team’s seven-game winning streak.

“Ty Lawson has incredible speed,” Thibodeau said. “He can change the game with his speed alone. He’s very good throwing the ball ahead, very good pushing it coast to coast. He can play with Andre Miller, who is still an elite point guard in this league. They are very athletic. They fly up the floor. They push the ball. They’re [great at the] fast break, great throwing the lob, they have guys that can finish at the rim and they’re skilled.”

Backup center Nazr Mohammed has played sparingly with Noah out while forward Taj Gibson has logged major minutes, although Thibodeau said that could change, too.

“A lot of it is matchups,” Thibodeau said of Mohammed’s lack of minutes of late. “The other thing you have to factor in is you’re not just down one player. You’re down an entire unit basically so you’re looking for different groups that can play well together so it’s not one guy you’re factoring in but a number of guys you’re taking a look at.”



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