Joakim Noah’s still hurting foot could be key to Bulls/Nets

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The Chicago Bulls are a trendy upset pick over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs (if the five seed beating the four is really an upset). The theory goes that the size of the Bulls front line — Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson — can protect the paint and the Bulls overall defense can just grind the Nets down.

But what if that Bulls front line isn’t right?

Noah played 14 minutes each in the Bulls final two games of the regular season after missing four games in a row before that as he again battles plantar fasciitis — a painful foot condition that really only gets better with rest.

How much and how well Noah can play against the Nets could swing what will be a hard-fought series. Coach Tom Thibodeau talked about it to Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com. Thibodeau said he’s not sure Noah is going to go a whole lot more minutes per game yet.

“It’s a combination of how much can we play [Joakim],” Thibodeau said. “Whether he starts or comes off the bench, I think he can handle both and we have to maximize what [Joakim] can bring to our team.

“During the game, he feels fine. I think he’s hopeful that he’ll get better as we go along. It’s the type of injury where he’s going to have to try and manage it as best as he can. The one thing is, he’s doing everything he can to get out there. He wants to be out there very badly. Whatever he can give us is a huge plus for our team.”

The one advantage the Bulls have is that the frequency of the games slows down in the playoffs. The Bulls are off until Saturday, then the series goes Monday and Thursday. Noah will get some breaks.

Which is good — the Bulls do not have much margin for error in this series. The Nets with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are the most skilled team, the more offensive minded team.

Noah looked rusty and limited in his recent comeback games. If that is the case against the Nets, Chicago could be one and done. Again.