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Streaking Bulls win third straight game
During the Bulls' impressive 105-90 thrashing of the Wizards on Friday night, Andres Nocioni wore a protective boot, street clothes and a frown.
Caught in a United Center hallway afterward, which wasn't difficult given that the valuable forward was on crutches, Nocioni tried to smile.
But his typical cat-ate-the-canary attempt at innocence couldn't hide the facts: Nocioni suffered a relapse of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot Thursday night in Cleveland. And the Bulls are preparing to play the next month without him.
That would be 13 more missed games for a player whose manic energy and long-range shooting ability already have been missed badly in seven of the previous eight games.
Nocioni played 15 minutes against the Cavaliers and was limping noticeably in the postgame locker room. He tried to play it off. This time, there was no fooling.
"I feel a lot of pain," Nocioni said. "I feel really frustrated. The playoffs are coming. I want to try to get ready as soon as I can. But the problem right now is I need to take care of it. If this gets worse, I could lose the playoffs. I don't want to do anything bad for my body."
Nocioni said team doctors ordered him to use crutches and put no pressure on his foot for five days. After that, he said he would need to walk in a protective boot for two to three weeks while undergoing treatment.
Coach Scott Skiles didn't hesitate when asked if Nocioni could be shut down for awhile.
"Yeah, that's definitely a real possibility," Skiles said. "We'll be conservative and err on the side of caution."
The Nocioni news put a damper on the Bulls' third straight victory and second straight against an Eastern Conference playoff team.
Chris Duhon's second career ejection, with 2 minutes 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter, enraged an already energetic Bulls team that dominated the fourth quarter.
Official Pat Fraher called Duhon for a loose ball foul after he tipped the ball from Gilbert Arenas and Arenas dove on his head during the ensuing scrum. Duhon erupted and received two quick technicals.
"I thought it was a great play by Duhon," Skiles said of the near steal. "I can understand his frustration and anger."
Arenas hit four straight free throws as part of 18 straight points he scored over the next 8:40 for the Wizards, who trimmed a 14-point deficit to three on multiple occasions.
But the Bulls, with Thabo Sefolosha playing meaningful minutes down the stretch, ripped off an 11-2 fourth-quarter run capped by Kirk Hinrich's steal and fast-break layin and an Adrian Griffin steal that led to Hinrich assisting Luol Deng on an alley-oop dunk.
Deng led the Bulls with a career-high-tying 32 points and added 11 rebounds. Hinrich narrowly missed a triple-double with 20 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Ben Wallace contributed eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.
The Bulls tied the NBA season low with just five turnovers and piled up a season-high-tying 26 fast-break points.
"We had a lot of energy," Hinrich said.
Arenas' 36 points led the Wizards, who still are without the injured Antawn Jamison.
Nocioni first felt the painful effects of what often is a lingering injury Feb. 3 in Portland. On the day he first sat, Feb. 5 in Utah, team sources feared Nocioni could miss six to eight weeks.
Nocioni rehabilitated hard over the All-Star break, even while on a fishing trip in Arkansas. But Skiles said by the time Nocioni reached the team bus to ride to the Cleveland airport, it was apparent he would be out.
"No matter how diligent you are with your rehab, it can take awhile to heal," Skiles said.
Nocioni's injury robs the Bulls of an energetic, physical presence who provides offensive spacing and defensive intensity. Skiles said Malik Allen would receive the majority of Nocioni's minutes, but that rookie Tyrus Thomas would have to step up.
Just before halftime, Thomas flashed the up-and-down nature that has defined his rookie season. First, he spectacularly blocked an Andray Blatche dunk attempt. On the inbound pass, he fouled Blatche 20 feet from the basket with one second remaining on the shot clock.
But such minutiae pales in comparison to the long-term absence of Nocioni.
"It's a big loss," Hinrich said. "He gives us a different dimension."
Added Wallace: "He's going to play at one speed regardless of the score. When guys play with that type of energy, it usually picks everybody else up. But until he gets healthy, we have to find ways to win games so we don't force him to try to come back before his time."