Gut-check time for wounded Bulls
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After Thursday's loss doomed the Bulls to a Game 7 in Brooklyn on Saturday (7 p.m., CSN/TNT), Joakim Noah was feeling upbeat, telling reporters he was ready to play the decisive playoff game immediately.
On Friday at the Berto Center, coach Tom Thibodeau provided his own version of the same sentiment.
"I have great belief in our team," Thibodeau said. "I think we'll have the resolve and the fight that will put us in position to win."
No one questions the Bulls' resolve or fight after they came up short against the Nets in Game 6 without Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng, and with Nate Robinson puking in a garbage can during a timeout.
The real question is whether or not they'll be healthier for Saturday's Game 7 at the Barclays Center or if they can win with the same depleted lineup.
Hinrich did some shooting Friday at the Berto Center, his bruised left calf heavily wrapped. He declined to speak to reporters, but was moving around reasonably well, so there's a chance he'll try to play.
Deng was not with the team, but he used his Twitter account to update his health status. He confirmed that he had a spinal tap Thursday to rule out viral meningitis and did not fly with the team to New York on Friday.
Here's the complete rundown of Deng's messages:
•"It really upsets me that everyone thinks I would miss a game (because) of the flu. I've played a lot of games with the flu in my career.
•"On Wed. I was taken to the ER and my symptoms indicated I may have meningitis. In order to play on Thurs. I was required to undergo a spinal tap.
•"As a result of the spinal tap, I suffered the worst headache I've ever experienced and been the weakest I've ever felt.
•"Yesterday I was unable to walk or even get out of bed. I made it to the UC and was sent home. This morning my symptoms worsened.
•"Now I'm back in the ER where I may have to spend the night ... I want my teammates and Bulls fans to know I would NEVER miss a game (because) of flu.
•"If I'm medically cleared I will fly to NY to be with my team and try to win Game 7."
Deng has led the NBA in minutes played the last two seasons, so it doesn't make sense for anyone to question his toughness. He's also sensitive to this topic because he was questioned about his health during the 2008-09 season, when it turned out he had a stress fracture in his shin.
In the meantime, Robinson and Taj Gibson, who are recovering from illnesses, both appeared to be feeling better Friday. Noah said his sore right foot felt good and he remained upbeat following the short practice session.
"I think we're ready," Noah said. "It's going to be exciting. Let's get it done."
Despite all the maladies endured by the Bulls, they had plenty of chances to win Thursday. They once led this first-round playoff series 3-1.
Their defense in the second half was brilliant, forcing the Nets to shoot 27.8 percent from the field, while scoring 35 points. In the first half, Brooklyn scored 60 points and shot 55.8 percent.
One bad defensive lapse was losing track of Nets center Brook Lopez, who caught a pass for an easy dunk to make it 89-85 with 3:36 remaining.
After a Nets free throw and Marco Belinelli 3-pointer, the Bulls had a chance to tie with 1:38 left, but Robinson missed a driving attempt. Brooklyn got a clutch hoop when Andray Blatche hit a tough fadeaway with 1:15 left to make it 92-88.
Robinson hit a jumper, then missed another driving attempt that could have tied the score with 32 seconds left. Belinelli got a decent look at a tying 3-pointer with about eight seconds on the clock, but that didn't fall, either.
"We felt like we had our opportunities yesterday, just couldn't close it out," Noah said. "We've just got to move forward, look what we could have done better. That's what we did today, shot some free throws and (got) ready to kick some (butt)."
The Bulls have won twice in Brooklyn this season — in Game 2 of the series and in early April during the regular season.
Just like last year when they come up short in the playoffs against Philadelphia after losing Derrick Rose and Noah to injuries, mental toughness is rarely the issue with the Bulls. It's whether they have enough players to get it done.
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