Nazr Mohammed is 35 years old and a 14-year NBA veteran, but he won’t deny it: hearing his name introduced in the starting lineup at the United Center is going to be special.
Mohammed grew up on the South Side, in the Hyde Park area, and attended Kenwood Academy. After years of bouncing around the league, he finally came home and joined the Bulls this summer.
There’s a good chance Mohammed will start at center in Tuesday’s preseason opener against Memphis, because Joakim Noah has been away from the team since Saturday because of a personal issue.
“It’s the preseason, but it’s definitely going to be a good feeling if it happens,” Mohammed said about joining the starting lineup. “When I hear my name called, it’s one of those childhood things.”
It’s enough to make Mohammed think back to his first Bulls game. He couldn’t pinpoint the year, but it was at the old Chicago Stadium sometime during the Michael Jordan era.
“We had this perfect attendance thing (at school), where you got tickets to a game,” Mohammed said. “We sat at the top, watching the Bulls play the Hawks. That was my first game ever going to. Just the atmosphere, you wish, ‘Man it would be nice being down there, calling your name,’ all that stuff.
“It’s a dream, but I’m trying to leave that behind me and just think about the focus needed, because we’ve got so many changes. I’ll reminisce about it after the game.”
To prepare for their first home game, the Bulls practiced Monday at the United Center. This is the first of seven preseason contests, which includes stops in Champaign and South Bend, with one short road trip to Minnesota.
Noah may be out, but this will be the first chance for the Bulls to test their new “Rose rehab” lineup, which will try to stay competitive while Derrick Rose recovers from knee surgery.
If all goes well, Rose should be ready to play sometime around the all-star break. Kirk Hinrich will step into the point-guard spot, with holdovers Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.
“I think (Tuesday’s game) gives us a chance to see where we are,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It gives us a baseline. It’s the first opportunity to compete as a team together.
“It will reveal some things, what we have to work on. Every game tells you something — tells you the things you’re doing well, the things that need work.”
As far as learning how to succeed without Rose, Thibodeau thinks the Bulls figured that out last year, by going 18-9 with Rose out of the lineup during the regular season. That was before Rose tore his ACL in the playoff opener.
“This is not a new thing for us; he missed half of last season,” Thibodeau said. “We found a way to do it last year, and I expect to find a way to do it this year. The players we have available are more than capable.”
Mohammed is trying to take that challenge to heart as he dons a Bulls uniform for the first time. He has been primarily a backup while playing for seven different teams in 14 seasons, averaging 6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“I’m really focused on treating tomorrow as if it’s a real game, not a preseason game,” Mohammed said. “When I say that, I really mean it. The focus that’s needed is the focus that this is a game.
“This is the first time for us being together; there are a lot of new guys. We have to use these first couple of games as a springboard to start off the right way.”
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