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updated: 1/12/2012 7:13 PM

Divvying up playing time no easy task for Bulls

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  • Carlos Boozer didn't play a second in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' win over Washington on Wednesday. This has been a hot topic around town, but coach Tom Thibodeau said he thought he could win the game with defense, which is why Taj Gibson and Omer Asik were on the floor.

      Carlos Boozer didn't play a second in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' win over Washington on Wednesday. This has been a hot topic around town, but coach Tom Thibodeau said he thought he could win the game with defense, which is why Taj Gibson and Omer Asik were on the floor.
    Associated Press

  • The Orlando Magic's Jason Richardson tries to make his way to the basket past the Bulls' Carlos Boozer earlier this season.

      The Orlando Magic's Jason Richardson tries to make his way to the basket past the Bulls' Carlos Boozer earlier this season.
    Associated Press

  • The Bulls' Joakim Noah shoots over Orlando Magic's Glen Davis, left, earlier this season.

      The Bulls' Joakim Noah shoots over Orlando Magic's Glen Davis, left, earlier this season.
    Associated Press

 
 

There should really be no major issues when a team owns a 10-2 record, leads the NBA in road wins and has allowed an astonishing 67.5 points per game at home.

But there are a couple of popular talking points with the Bulls these days.

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They went 3-0 in the now-completed set of three games in three days. After a rare off-day Thursday, a visit to Boston is on tap for Friday, followed by Toronto at the United Center on Saturday.

The Bulls are in the middle of five games in six days, seven games in nine days and 11 games in 15 days, so playing time has been a topic of mild controversy. More specifically, the question is whether Derrick Rose and Luol Deng are playing too many minutes. For Rose, the answer seems to be no as he's 20th in the league at 36.4.

Rose missed Wednesday's 78-64 win over Washington with a sprained left big toe, sitting out for the first time since last Nov. 26 at Denver.

Considering the speed and aggression in Rose's game, it's a wonder he doesn't miss more time due to injuries. Besides the toe, which Rose said has been a lingering issue, he's still got the bruised left elbow from a hard fall in Detroit, tendinitis in his right shin and who knows what else.

After the Minnesota game Tuesday, Rose joked about taking an Advil to solve his toe problem. But too many pain-relief pills almost certainly contributed to the stomach ulcers he developed last year. Rose never missed a game because of the ulcers, which bothered him more than he let on.

So the Bulls were smart to sit their superstar against the lowly Wizards and also to keep plenty of reinforcements on hand. John Lucas III has done a nice job filling in for backup point guard C.J. Watson (left elbow sprain) and turned in a remarkable performance against Washington, with 25 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds in 45 minutes during the first start of his NBA career.

"I love this team," Lucas said after the game. "I'll throw my body on the line anytime for them. We've all got each other's back."

Minutes don't seem to be a significant problem, but still, coach Tom Thibodeau will do some things to make the fans cringe.

For example, with the Bulls playing for the third straight night, Luol Deng logged a grueling 45 minutes against the Wizards for a total of 122 over the three days. Deng might have had tired legs, hitting just 5 of 21 shots on Wednesday, but he did grab 15 rebounds.

Overall, Deng ranks third in the league in minutes played at an even 39, trailing Golden State's Monta Ellis and Minnesota's Kevin Love.

Thibodeau, like most coaches, trusts veterans more than rookies, though it does seem reasonable to ask, why not more of rookie forward Jimmy Butler?

Including preseason, Butler has done well when given the chance and looking ahead, it will be important to keep Deng fresher at the end of potential playoff games against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

On the other end of the spectrum are Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, who collectively saw no fourth-quarter playing time against Minnesota or Washington the past two days.

This topic was covered here last week. Going back to last season's playoffs, Thibodeau has felt comfortable defensively with Taj Gibson and Omer Asik on the floor late in games and admitted as much after holding the Wizards to 64 points.

"You just go with the matchups and how you think the game is going," Thibodeau said. "We had a 6-point lead and you know you can have lockdown defense with Taj and Omer shutting down the lane. I thought we could win it with our defense.

"Carlos and Joakim are a huge part of this team. On a lot of nights they carry us. You need everyone."

Riding a different set of big men in the fourth quarter is not a problem on the court. In the accounting department, it's a little different because Boozer and Noah make a combined $23.5 million this season, compared to about $3 million for Gibson and Asik.

The Bulls expect to re-sign Asik this summer. Beyond that, the most likely scenario in the summer of 2013 seems to be re-signing Gibson, welcoming European import Nikola Mirotic and using the amnesty clause on one of the higher paid big men.

But that's the view for today. There will be two playoff runs between now and then, so plenty could change.

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