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First Round: (5) Bulls defeat (4) Brooklyn Nets 4-3

Game 7 | Bulls knock off Nets in Game 7

Bulls 99, Nets 93 | 05.04.2013 | Chicago wins series 4-3

Sam Smith: This has been a fabulous season for the Bulls; really, one of the best in franchise history. No, it’s not likely to end with any of those parades or rallies, though you never want to say never with this group, and you don’t want to go comparing them to the great Michael Jordan championship teams of the 1990’s. It’s a team only now going to the Eastern Conference semifinals starting in Miami Monday after Saturday’s Game 7 99-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

But this season and this team is special and one to embrace perhaps as much as any because of what they didn’t have, and what they then did, especially Saturday in Brooklyn.

“I think they’ve shown it all season,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in yet another terrific coaching job. “I see them every day. I know they have the belief. We’ve dealt with adversity all year. Our team has the belief that we can win every night. We’ve been short handed and guys have stepped up.”

That barely expresses not only what the Bulls have done, but how satisfying it was to witness, how this Bulls group serves perhaps as a model and inspiration for sports, or even beyond.

They lose their best player, the former league MVP for the season. They get a 3-1 lead in the first round series against the Nets, who feature four of five starters who have been All Stars, and then lose their point guard, Kirk Hinrich, to a severe calf injury. Then they lose the player Thibodeau calls the glue that holds the team together, Luol Deng, with a serious infection that required several days in the hospital.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Also: Derrick Rose not playing in Game 7
Sam Smith: Bulls heading for ultimate Game 7 in Brooklyn

Game 6 | Bulls can’t close out Nets and head for Game 7

Nets 95, Bulls 92 | 05.02.2013 | Series tied 3-3

Sam Smith: A tough Bulls team suffered a tough 95-92 loss Thursday to send the Bulls and Nets to Brooklyn Saturday for a Game 7 in their first round playoff series. So if it’s about toughness, perhaps the Bulls have the advantage even on the road.

“Our confidence is going up,” insisted Jimmy Butler, who played 48 minutes for the ill Luol Deng. “They know they’ve got to win Game 7. We know we’ve got to win Game 7. It’s going to be a fight. The tougher team is going to get the win.”

Perhaps that’s the best thing the Bulls have going for them as they are on the verge of blowing a 3-1 lead in this playoff series, marching on like the revolutionary figures in the famous Spirit of ’76 painting, wounded and in ill healthy but showing spirit and determination.

“I’m ready to play right now,” said a frisky Joakim Noah afterward when asked about his plantar fasciitis. “We’re a team of fighter. We keep getting punched in the face but we fight back. I’m proud of this team. We’re going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we’re going to win.

“It’s going to take all of us sticking together through all kinds of adversity,” said Noah, who had 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks, the only Bulls player other than Artis Gilmore to produce those numbers in a playoff game according to Elias Sports. “This has been a hard year, a really hard year. But I’m really proud of this team. We’re a team of fighters. Tonight was disappointing. We wanted to close it out and get ready for the next series. We are playing a very talented group we think are very capable. But I’m ready. I want to play right now.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Bulls look to keep Nets winless at United Center
Hinrich needs further improvement to play in Game 6
Sam Smith: Bulls need to rebound after loss

Bulls look to keep Nets winless at United Center

Blogs.Bulls.com: For the Bulls to wrap up their first round series against the Nets on Thursday, all they’ve got to do is something that has happened every other time the teams have met at the United Center this season – win at home.

Chicago has claimed all four meetings at home this year against Brooklyn – two in the regular season and two more during the playoffs – most recently a triple overtime thriller in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. But the Bulls were unable to defeat the Nets at Barclays Center in Game 5, so the series returns to the United Center for Game 6.

“We need a win,” said Nets guard Deron Williams prior to the team shootaround Thursday morning. “We haven’t won here yet. This is one of the places we haven’t won. For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to have success. We’ve had chances; obviously the last time we were here we blew that lead. That’s still fresh on our minds and we’re ready to go.”

Hinrich needs further improvement to play in Game 6

Blogs.Bulls.com: Though Tom Thibodeau admitted Kirk Hinrich was extremely limited in Wednesday’s practice at the Berto Center, the Bulls guard said he’s improving and labeled himself a game-time decision for Thursday’s Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets at the United Center.

Meanwhile, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson missed Wednesday’s practice as both stayed home sick. Thibodeau was hopeful they will be able to play on Thursday, when the series returns to the United Center and the Bulls get a second chance to close out their seven-game series against the Nets.

“I’m doing better, seeing some improvement,” said Hinrich. “Right now, just kind of the same deal, taking it day to day, and just throwing everything at it to try and improve it as quickly as possible.

Bulls need to rebound after loss

Sam Smith: There’s a famous comment about women from the Dutch Renaissance social critic Erasmus, “Women, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” Though I have heard the modern version in my house with men substituted. Nevertheless, had Erasmus been watching the Bulls as they are hanging onto a 3-2 lead in the first round playoff series with the Nets, he may have substituted that adage for the beloved Nate Robinson.

The Bulls can’t live without Nate, but can they live with him?

This series, which continues at the United Center Thursday, wouldn’t be so memorable without Robinson’s Game 4 triple overtime comeback masterpiece. Without Robinson, the Bulls probably are trying to avoid elimination Thursday instead of just a seventh game in Brooklyn. And who knows what else, as Robinson is the team’s second leading scorer in the series to Carlos Boozer at 17.8 points on 54.4 percent shooting.

But when the Nets hung on in Game 5 in Brooklyn Monday and pulled away in a potential closeout game with Robinson starting his first ever playoff game for the injured Kirk Hinrich, the Nets constantly broke down the perimeter against Robinson. That forced the interior defenders to step up to stop the ball, enabling Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans to repeatedly get inside for rebounds and putbacks (22 rebounds, nine offensive) as the Nets doubled the Bulls in second chance points and dominated them on the boards 44-33.

Game 5 | Bulls caught in a Brooklyn net of frustration

Nets 110, Bulls 91 | 04.29.2013 | Chicago leads series 3-2

Sam Smith: This was the kind of game in Brooklyn Monday for the Bulls you almost wanted to skip, let the other guys take the win and go back home after the stunning Saturday victory and perhaps a bit healthier and more rested and end it in Game 6 Thursday.

After all, it’s about winning the series. But it’s also about playing the game, competing and not showing weakness or doubt. The Bulls went out and did all they could, battling the desperate Nets within a point four minutes into the fourth quarter. But there just wasn’t enough left or enough there, and in the end the Bulls go home Thursday, anyway, now ahead 3-2 in the first round series after a 110-91 loss and perhaps with their own sort of backs to the wall game.

“Home court is not going to win it for us,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We’re going to have to play well. It’s good to be home; we have great support there. But we’ve got to put the work into the game to give our fans something to cheer about. We have to get things corrected.

“Right from the start of the game, I knew they were reacting to the ball quicker than we were,” said Thibodeau. “So I was concerned about that right from the beginning and it never changed. We worked our way back and put ourselves in position. But if you defend fairly well and then you give a team a second and a third crack at it, it’s hard to win like that.”

It was as easy a game as any to figure out. No excuses, we know. But the numbers alone show a weary, injured, fatigue-distracted Bulls team. Despite being one of the league’s best rebounding teams, the Bulls were outrebounded 44-34 and crushed on the offensive boards, giving up 17. The Nets’ 24 second chance points were a season most for an opponent. So much for playoff intensity. The Nets also had 54 points in the paint, duplicating the inside edge they had in their Game 1 blowout win. The Bulls barely made the finish line, trailing 85-84 with 8:16 left and then getting their last field goal with 4:15 left and being outscored 15-1 to end the game.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Press Pass: Tom Thibodeau | Discuss the game

Robinson stands tall among his competition

Sam Smith: Is Nate Robinson the future of the NBA?

That’s perhaps a bit of hyperbole, though after Robinson’s spectacular game and perhaps series saving performance for the Bulls in their Saturday triple overtime 142-134 win over the Brooklyn Nets, there may not be enough celebration for the Bulls’ diminutive guard.

Robinson’s 23-fourth quarter points and 12 straight to shock the Nets after they led by 14 with under three minutes left will long be discussed and admired as one of the all-time great NBA playoff performances. And Robinson’s role with the Bulls may become even more vital heading into Game 5 in Brooklyn Monday with Kirk Hinrich questionable with a calf injury.

It could leave Robinson starting against All-Star Deron Williams with the Bulls ahead 3-1 in the series, though no assignment seems too much for Robinson anymore. And some of the greatest players in the history of the game, who also fought the stereotypes Robinson has faced, applaud Robinson and suggest, especially in the evolution of the NBA, that players like Robinson, standing somewhere between 5-6 and his listed height of 5-9, can be more valuable than ever.

Game 4 | Bulls beat Nets in triple overtime classic

Bulls 142, Nets 134 (3OT) | 04.27.2013 | Chicago leads series 3-1

Sam Smith: That’s why you keep coming back to the NBA. For days like Saturday when the Bulls and Brooklyn Nets gave basketball a gift, a fabulous, breathtaking, wondrous and thrilling 142-134 Bulls triple overtime victory.

Perhaps not so wonderful for the shocked Nets, who gave up a 14-point lead with less than three minutes left in regulation and head home for Game 5 Monday trailing 3-1 in this first round series. But the day was a bounty for basketball with one of the great individual playoff performances ever, Nate Robinson’s 34 points off the bench with 29 in the fourth quarter and the overtimes, including 12 consecutive in 1:42 after the Nets were leading 109-95 with 2:53 left in the game.

“Amazing game to be part of,” marveled Carlos Boozer, who had 21 points and his own big third overtime score. “Three overtimes, down by so much late in the fourth, a spectacular show by Nate. Amazing. He put on a performance for the ages.”

It was the stuff of legend for the frenetic Robinson, the stuff of Isiah and Nate Archibald and World B. and Calvin Murphy and Downtown Freddie Brown and Iverson, the littlest guy taking on the biggest kids and making them reel in awe and wonder.

“Nate was huge,” said Joakim Noah. “He might be the best under six foot player ever. He’s an unbelievable talent.”

Uncanny, unusual, perhaps unprecedented but hardly unskilled.

“I always think I’m on fire,” said Robinson. “Like the old school game, ‘NBA Jam.’ You make a couple and the rim’s on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball’s on fire. I feel like that at times.”

It was like a video game with Robinson scoring 23 fourth quarter points, the second most in franchise history to Michael Jordan’s 24 in the 1990 playoffs. Robinson, basically after the game seemed over and many fans began to leave, accounted for 27 of the Bulls’ 35 fourth quarter points with nine of 11 field goals and a pair of assists. He set a franchise playoff record for most points off the bench and did it all in fewer than 29 minutes as he fouled out.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 3 | Bulls hang on to net a 2-1 lead in series

Bulls 79, Nets 76 | 04.25.2013 | Chicago leads Brooklyn 2-1

Sam Smith: We know Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t exactly Mr. Happy, though he does enjoy the occasional guffaw when someone reverses the pinch post action in the triangle offense.

But it was a very somber Thibodeau late Thursday night in the United Center, grimly breaking down Game 3 of the Bulls/Nets series.

“We had a hard time scoring,” Thibodeau lamented. “They had it their way. We’re going to have to come out a lot tougher in the next one. They came out and jumped on us pretty good. So we had to dig out of that hole. Once we did that, I thought for the most part in the second and third quarters we played well… They kept the pressure us. We’re going to have to bounce back. We have to read and recognize (defending). We have to react to the ball. We have to read the ball better. There’s a lot of things we have to do a lot better.”

So imagine if the Bulls hadn’t won 79-76 to take a 2-1 lead in the series with Game 4 at 1 p.m. CT Saturday in the United Center.

“We did what we had to do to win the game,” said Carlos Boozer, who has been the offensive star of the series with 22 points and 16 rebounds as he’s now averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in the three games and shooting 57.4 percent.

“Nate (Robinson) made one free throw,” Boozer said in describing the end game sequence when the Bulls survived blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead including still leading by a dozen with under five minutes left. “Joakim (Noah) made one free throw. It ended up being enough. C.J. (Watson) had a corner shot and Jo hustled his butt out there, contested it and made him miss (tying three attempt with three tenths of a second left). In the playoffs, you’ve got to win in different ways. Nothing is perfect.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Blogs.Bulls.com: Nets’ Johnson also dealing with plantar fasciitis, while Williams looks to bounce back in Game 3
Sam Smith: Do the Nets have an April surprise for the Bulls?
Also: Noah ready to play through pain again in Game 3

Nets’ Johnson also dealing with plantar fasciitis, while Williams looks to bounce back in Game 3

Blogs.Bulls.com: It turns out Chicago’s Joakim Noah isn’t the only one dealing with plantar fasciitis in the Bulls and Nets first round playoff series. As the teams prepare for Game 3 at the United Center on Thursday night, Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson sat out of the team’s practice on Wednesday and his status is uncertain.

“I feel a little better than I did yesterday,” Johnson said prior to Nets shootaround on Thursday morning. “We’ll see. I don’t know.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said on Wednesday he fully expects Johnson to be in the lineup. As for their plan with respect to Johnson, Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said it’s simple: “If he can play, he’s going to play.”

Meanwhile, one Nets player who looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristic, subpar effort in Game 2 is Deron Williams. Williams was limited to just one-of-nine shooting from the field en route to eight points in 38 minutes, though he did finish with 10 assists. Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich has been praised for keeping Williams in check.

“They definitely paid more attention to me—tried to keep the ball out of my hands, picked me up a little earlier and forced me left,” said Williams. “Those are the adjustments that I saw.”

Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo:

Nets guard Deron Williams:

Do the Nets have an April surprise for the Bulls?

Sam Smith at Blogs.Bulls.com: Is Charles C.J. Watson the fulcrum in this Bulls/Nets series? No, not because Joe Johnson also has plantar fasciitis and is a game-time decision for Thursday’s pivotal (they all are, but we like to say it, anyway) Game 3 of this first round series now tied 1-1. Though if Johnson can’t play, Watson likely would move into the starting lineup.

Plantar fasciitis seems more contagious these days than avian flu. Isn’t there a vaccine? Meanwhile, the fear Watson factor is also not necessarily because the former Bulls backup point guard has been tangling with the current Bulls backup point guard, Nate Robinson.

Watson has been the Nets’ best reserve, averaging 12 points on impressive 58 percent shooting. Though in some respects he’s been the most troublesome Net for the Bulls. I’m not a big fan of that plus/minus stat, but Watson is the only Nets’ player to have a plus rating (team scores more points when he is on the floor) in both games.

But more than that, it’s the problems the Nets pose when Watson is in the game. The Bulls controlled Watson well in the four regular season games when he averaged 4.5 points against the Bulls and shot just 35.3 percent. That helped account for the 3-1 edge. Watson has gotten loose in this series, though only partly because he’s played mostly against Nate Robinson, who isn’t a particularly adept defender.

Noah ready to play through pain again in Game 3

Blogs.Bulls.com: By now, most Bulls fans are all too familiar with the term plantar fasciitis, a condition that plagued Joakim Noah the second half of the season and has persisted on during the first two games of the playoffs.

But unless you’ve experienced it, you likely cannot truly appreciate Noah’s Game 2 performance in which he endured immense pain on the way to 11 points and 10 rebounds during 25 minutes of work. So you’ll just have to take Noah’s word for it.

“It really [stinks],” said Noah with a smile when asked to describe plantar fasciitis following practice at the Berto Center on Wednesday. “It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing. You can imagine—you need to jump, you need to run, you need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball, so you don’t want needles on your feet, right?”

Still, when the Bulls and Nets first round series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Thursday night, there is no doubt Noah will be in the lineup once again.

“It’s the biggest game of the season,” said Noah, who finished fourth in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting announced Wednesday. “Let’s get it done. What happened in the past, happened. Let’s go. Let’s get it done."

Updates from Bulls practice at the Berto Center (04.24.2013)

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau:

Bulls center Joakim Noah:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler:

Game 2 | Noah plants a foot on Nets to even series

Bulls 90, Nets 82 | 04.22.2013 | Chicago and Brooklyn tied 1-1

Sam Smith: Joakim Noah didn’t have the most points in the Bulls 90-82 win over the Brooklyn Nets Monday to even their playoff series at 1-1. The Nets’ Brook Lopez had 21.

Noah didn’t have the most rebounds. That was teammate Carlos Boozer with 12 along with 13 points while Luol Deng had his own double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Noah didn’t have the most assists, which went to the Nets’ Deron Williams with 10, though also with just eight points on one of nine shooting. Lopez had more blocks. Kirk Hinrich had more steals. Deng made more shots.

But Noah, whose playing in the series was in doubt a few days ago because of his severe plantar fasciitis in his right foot, stood figuratively the tallest, if actually the shakiest. And with nine fourth quarter points and six rebounds in one of the more magnificent performances in his career, Noah gave the Bulls life and hope in this series which continues Thursday in the United Center.

“Joakim has given us everything he has,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who had a terrific response game plan to the Nets Game 1 win. “We’re obviously a lot better with him on the floor. His timing is not quite there and he is doing a lot of it on will power. Obviously, Jo has done a lot of great things for us these last three years. The fact is he’s really willing it now.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap, locker room interviews with Deng, Noah, Gibson, Mohammed, Robinson | Discuss the game

Deng on Rose and the Game 1 loss

It was the first round of the playoffs, the Bulls on the road and with a chance to get on an underdog run in the playoffs despite losing the opening game. It seems if they just had that one more guy who was sitting there on the team bench, looking pretty good, but still not playing. If only get could get in there. Why wasn’t he?

“I had a broken leg,” recalled Luol Deng of the stress fracture that many questioned at the time and which kept him out of the thrilling 2009 playoff series with the Boston Celtics. “That’s the bottom line. I had a broken leg. But no one, excuse my language, gave (a darn). To me, there was nothing like that (I ever experienced). I don’t think I can go through anything for the rest of my career that’s going to affect me as much as that did.”

Deng, as we know, has gone on to become a two-time NBA All-Star selected by the Eastern Conference coaches, arguably the team’s MVP and one of the NBA’s ironman in leading the league in minutes played for most of the last three years. He plays now without mention of a left wrist injury so severe surgery was contemplated last summer. Many said he should skip the Olympics. Now he plays and there never is a mention.

Yet, just a few years ago, Deng was missing late season and playoff games amidst questions about why he wasn’t playing. There were indications he could or should at least try. But he knew his body wasn’t right. He stayed out after the lowest scoring season since his rookie year. But he returned to become the rock of the Bulls rotation. So he winces as he hears grumbles from outside about his teammate Derrick Rose, that Rose should be playing after major reconstructive knee surgery less than a year ago, that Rose is letting the team down, that he can play. Perhaps no one understands like Deng, who was there, and it left a mark... continue reading

Updates from Bulls shootaround in New York City (04.22.2013)

Bulls center Joakim Noah says he feels good and plans to play in Game 2:

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau meets the media prior to shootaround (04.22.2013):

For now, Noah and Hinrich both a go for Game 2

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau more or less admitted that there weren’t a lot of positives to take from his team’s Game 1 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn on Saturday night.

However, on Sunday afternoon following a meeting at the team’s hotel in New York City, he reported that Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich feel “pretty good,” adding that as of now, both will play in Monday’s Game 2 at the Barclays Center.

Noah has been battling a painful case of plantar fasciitis, but he started Saturday and played 13 minutes. Hinrich, on the other hand, left Game 1 in the third quarter with a left thigh bruise and did not return.

“He’s relatively good for where he is,” Thibodeau clarified with respect to Noah. “Not quite the same soreness he had previously, so he feels like he can do something today, which is a good sign. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.” Continue reading

Adversity nothing new to Butler and Bulls

When the 2013 NBA Playoffs began, Bulls forward Jimmy Butler had a mere four minutes of postseason experience under his belt.

That changed dramatically on Saturday during Game 1 in Brooklyn when Butler started and played 39 minutes, recording 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The Bulls, however, suffered a 106-89 loss which saw them trailing by 25 at the half. It’s a game that Butler and his teammates will be happy to learn from, and then promptly forget about.

“Game 1, it’s over with,” said Butler on Sunday as to how he’s processing the loss. “It’s a long series. We’ll learn from it and go on to the next one on Monday and try to get a win. We came here to get one and we definitely have to do that.”

Given the amount of injuries Chicago has suffered this season, facing a challenge is nothing new to this Bulls team. Butler believes that because the Bulls have played short-handed on so many occasions, it prepares them to be able to bounce back in Game 2... continue reading

Game 1 | Bulls can’t dodge a Nets beating

Nets 106, Bulls 89 | 04.20.2013 | Chicago trails 1-0 in the series

Sam Smith: A playoff series isn’t over when you are embarrassed in Game 1 on the road, as the Bulls were Saturday in Brooklyn in a 106-89 beating in which the Nets led by 25 points at halftime with already an astounding 40 inside points to eight for the Bulls.

“The game was over in the first half,” acknowledged Carlos Boozer, who was the team’s most effective player, at least on offense, with 25 points and eight rebounds in 45 minutes. “We tried to fight in the second half. They did a good job of jumping on us early. They’ve been doing that (to other teams) the last few weeks. So it’s something we’ve got to correct. Their first quarter they came out very aggressive and we took a hit there. The second quarter they had 35 (points). We’ve got to do a better job making them miss and regroup. We’ve been here before.”

Not a lot of times. But the Bulls have; others certainly have. There was that 2007 Bulls conference semifinals against the Pistons when the Bulls were blown out Games 1 and 2 in Detroit and then made the Pistons sweat into a sixth game. More famously, there were the Lakers going into Boston to open the 1985 Finals and losing by 34 points and then winning Game 2 and the series.

I know, Kareem, Magic and Worthy aren’t coming through that door or onto the bus or into the locker room. Which is just part of the problem the Bulls face in trying to turn around this first round series with Game 2 in Brooklyn Monday.

The Bulls, surprisingly, got Joakim Noah back and he started Game 1 after there were questions about whether he’d even play in the series. Noah played about six minutes in each quarter and had four points and five rebounds. But he hardly was the same player with his painful plantar fasciitis and mostly moved haltingly.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Marco Belinelli | Taj Gibson | Kirk Hinrich
Sam Smith: Playoff drama increases with Noah
Also: Noah’s status uncertain as Bulls prepare for Game 1

Playoff drama increases with Noah

Sam Smith: The Bulls, obviously, are hoping it doesn’t become a Shakespearean tragedy. But the elements are there as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before Saturday’s playoff Game 1 in Brooklyn that Joakim Noah not only could play, but that he may start.

“We’re going to let him warm up and if he feels OK, he’s going to go,” Thibodeau said in something of a surprise after all the negative talk about Noah’s plantar fasciitis condition after practice Friday.

Asked if Noah will start, Thibodeau replied: “He could.”

“There will be some restrictions on him,” Thibodeau said. “As we explained the past couple games, he hasn’t had a problem playing nor after the game. It’s more the next day where the soreness comes into play. He was really disappointed yesterday. He said he felt a little better yesterday, but not much. So that was a big concern. He said he felt a lot better today. So he wanted to go through the shoot around. He did that, felt fine after and said he wanted to give it a go. Then he had to be cleared by our trainer and doctor.”

Of course, the question then is at what price?

A closer look at the Bulls/Nets series and prediction

Sam Smith: Really, what is more appropriate for this Bulls 2012-13 season than to open the playoffs with Chicago defending the Brooklyn Nets’ only All-Star with one of the league’s oldest players, Nazr Mohammed, who barely played the first half of the season when he averaged less than a point and shot 19 percent before the All-Star break.

“It was the master plan,” quipped the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran from Chicago’s Kenwood High School. “He (coach Tom Thibodeau) told me when they signed me they were going to save me all year, and then at the end unleash me.”

Not exactly, obviously, but it is no surprise in this aberrant season with Derrick Rose out all season after his knee surgery, and now concern about the health of Joakim Noah, suffering with plantar fasciitis, which seems to have worsened once again. Thibodeau lists Noah day to day, as he mostly does everyone with injuries, though Noah told reporters at the Berto Center Friday he remains uncertain about playing in Game 1. Mohammed will start against Brook Lopez with Jimmy Butler moving into the starting lineup at shooting guard to defend the threat of six-time All-Star Joe Johnson. Otherwise, the starters are expected to be Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.

“It’s really disappointing for me,” said an obviously distraught Noah, who missed most of last season’s first round with a sprained ankle and was looking forward to a series in Brooklyn, where he attended high school. “You work really hard in the summer and the season to be ready for situations like this, and just to be hurt is really disappointing. It is what it is. We fought hard to get here, and we’re a very capable team. It’s going to be an exciting series against Brooklyn."

-- Bulls-Nets matchups and prediction | Also: The first round of the NBA Playoffs

Sam Smith: A Brooklyn primer for the Bulls

So what was the big deal about Brooklyn, anyway? Why do you hear about it so much, even before the monumental Bulls/Nets playoff series about to begin 7 p.m. CT Saturday, the first professional sports playoff series in Brooklyn since the Dodgers’ 1956 World Series?

Yes, a lot of famous people were from there, like Barbra Streisand, George Gershwin, Bobby Fischer, Eddie Murphy, Neil Diamond, Woody Allen, Jay-Z, Mike Tyson, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Mel Brooks, Lena Horne, Jackie Gleason, Normal Mailer, Chris Rock, Spike Lee, Moe, Curly and Shemp from the Three or more Stooges and Bugs Bunny supposedly born under Ebbets Field, as the story goes. Though being a large part of New York City with about two million residents, the averages would suggest some notoriety for natives and residents.

I pretty much always have heard everyone I’ve known or met say where they grew up was a great place to grow up. This being, obviously, because those years require the least responsibility and you haven’t been around long enough to hear all that much bad news.

Growing up in Brooklyn, as I did, is unique not because I’m getting to write this but because we had no idea what Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were talking about. There were no fishing holes or treks through the woods or camp outs or bar-b-ques with S’mores. That’s supposed to be the American experience, and we respected it even if no one could tell you which was on top, Kentucky or Tennessee, and which order was Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

Can Bulls surprise like 2004 Pistons?

One of the most successful and unexpected NBA champions didn’t have a so-called star player.

The leading scorer averaged well below 20 points per game, though they had four players averaging in double figures. The best player and only All-Star was a center who couldn’t score. Their power forward preferred to shoot jump shots and their best perimeter defender was their lanky small forward. They were known for their defensive play and disciplined, deliberate offense.

“Guys are healthy,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got everybody (but Rose) back. Our biggest thing is rhythm and timing. So hopefully we can respond in Game 1. In that case, we’ll be in good shape.”

“I always say it’s easy to guard one guy,” said Richard Hamilton, the leading scorer at 17.6 per game on the champion 2004 Detroit Pistons. “You can double team and things like that. But it’s hard to guard five guys because you really never know where you are trying to score. When you double team one person, another person can get a shot. It’s always tough (on the opponent) when all the guys on the floor are being aggressive.”

Pippen hopes Bulls can steal a win in Brooklyn

Blogs.Bulls.com: It wasn’t often that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls found themselves entering a playoff series as the lower seed. But when it did happen, including twice in the NBA Finals, winning at least one of the first two road games to take control of home court advantage was of vital importance.

So it comes as no surprise that Pippen views that as a key for the fifth-seeded Bulls when their postseason gets underway Saturday in Brooklyn against the fourth-seeded Nets.

“Your mindset has got to be one where you’re determined to win that first game,” Pippen said on Thursday. “As a lower seed away from home, the pressure isn’t on you. But, really, the Bulls have two games to try and get at least one win. Obviously, if we get the first one, the number goes to two.”

Whether or not this season’s Bulls can also find success away from the United Center in the postseason may largely depend on the team’s health.

“We’re as good as our health will allow us to be,” said Pippen. “If we can get healthy and stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this team.”

Breakdown of the Bulls 3-1 series lead over the Nets

Sam Smith: The Bulls will open the 2012-13 NBA playoffs 7 p.m. Saturday in Brooklyn at the new Barclays Center, the Nets’ first ever playoff game in Brooklyn and first major professional sports playoff game in Brooklyn since the 1956 World Series.

While the Bulls have been to the playoff seven of the last eight seasons with a conference finals appearance two years ago, this is the Nets first time to the playoffs since 2007 when they lost to the Cavaliers in the second round. The teams have met only once in the playoffs, in 1998 when the Bulls swept the Nets in the first round.

The Bulls finished the season 45-37 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, four games behind the Nets, who were 49-33. Both teams had winning road records with the Nets two games better at 23-18. The Nets come into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams having won six of their last seven. And their 49 wins tied for the second winningest season since they came into the NBA from the American Basketball Association. They are led by All-Star Brook Lopez, who averaged 19.4 points, and Deron Williams, who averaged 19.1 points. But since the All-Star break, Williams has been one of the league’s best players, averaging 23.4 points and 8.1 rebounds and shooting 42 percent on threes.

The Bulls finished the season 3-1 against the Nets. But three of the games were decided by four points or fewer with the Bulls winning by one and two and the Nets winning by four. The Bulls won the other game by 11. Take a look at the four games this season.

Moments and memories from a season in transition

Sam Smith takes a look at the best times during a transition season that mostly played a deliberate style, the super 20 moments and memories from the 2012-13 regular season.