DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Joakim Noah feels like he’s running on needles and Joe Johnson can probably sympathize.
The Bulls and Nets resume their first-round series in Chicago on Thursday after splitting the first two games in Brooklyn, and both teams have key players battling a similar injury.
Noah remains hobbled by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and Johnson is dealing with it in his left one. He sat out practice on Wednesday and is a game-time decision, meaning the Nets could be without one of their top scorers.
“We have a lot of guys we can lean on,” Brook Lopez said. “We have to obviously worry about playing better defense, playing with better energy and tenacity. I think a lot will depend on how our frontcourt reacts to what they’re throwing at us.”
Some of that might hinge on just how much Noah can contribute for the Bulls.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls’ center participated in most of Wednesday’s practice and there were no setbacks after playing about 25 minutes in Game 2 on Monday.
Noah provided a big spark in that one with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bulls pulled even in the series. Thibodeau indicated he will remain on a minutes limit after playing about 14 in each of the previous three games.
Noah’s still trying to work his way back after missing time down the stretch with an injury that had given him trouble in the past and cropped up again around midseason.
“It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing,” Noah said. “You can imagine. You need to jump. You need to run. You need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball. You don’t want needles on your feet, right?”
It’s not exactly an unfamiliar feeling for Noah, given his history. The most recent bouts with the injury have caused him to miss 15 games since the start of February.
He sat out eight straight late in the regular season before playing against Detroit on April 7. He then missed the next four and got in about 14 minutes in the final two regular-season games.
His status for this series was in question after he acknowledged last week that he was in pain, and the way he struggled in Game 1, it didn’t look like he would be able to contribute much. But there he was in Game 2, playing a key role as the Bulls shook off an ugly loss to tie the series.
“It’s not time to exhale right now,” Noah said. “I think that we’ve dealt with adversity very well this year. Every time we got hit with a punch, we always responded pretty well.”
The biggest blow came late in Game 1 of the playoffs last year. They lost Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the left knee and wound up bowing out to Philadelphia in the first round after capturing the No. 1 seed.
He hasn’t played since then, and his status has been a running soap opera this season.
While their superstar’s been recovering, the Bulls have seen just about every key part of their rotation get banged up at some point, yet they’re still standing.
Now, they have a chance to grab the lead after seizing homecourt advantage in this series, and even though they’re still dealing with a dinged-up Noah, Brooklyn isn’t completely healthy, either.
The Bulls aren’t buying into the idea that Johnson will sit out, though.
Thibodeau basically rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, he’ll play, don’t worry.”
And Chicago’s Jimmy Butler added: “I’m sure he’ll rest up and be ready.”
Whether Johnson plays or not, the Nets can’t afford to let the Bulls dictate the tempo and seal Williams out of the lane the way they did on Monday.
Brooklyn shot about 35 percent in the game and was 4 of 21 on 3-pointers. Williams was particularly bad, hitting just 1 of 9 shots and missing all five from long range while scoring just eight after pouring in 22 in the series opener.
But the Nets have played well on the road, going 23-18, and Chicago had more losses at home than any other playoff team, with a 24-17 record at the United Center.
“We’ve been through our ups and downs to get this far,” Johnson said. “We can’t let anything stop us. We’re a poised team on the road, so now we have to go out on the road and get one. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but we’ll be prepared for it. We missed a shots that we normally make Monday night. As I was watching the tapes, I noticed that the shots didn’t go down like they normally do. Now we have to keep shooting regardless. I’m sure we’ll bounce back and play well.”
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