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Bulls get back Noah, Gibson, earn 102-84 win over Magic

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:21PM



ORLANDO, Fla. — Carlos Boozer was holding out hope.

The Bulls power forward loved that Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were back on the court during the team’s 102-84 victory against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on Monday night, but the puzzle was incomplete.

The No. 1 remained the last big missing piece.

And while Derrick Rose continued to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee — and gave no signs of shutting it down for the rest of the season or playing — Boozer grasped onto the idea of what the Bulls still could be.

“It’s what we had to deal with,’’ said Boozer, who scored a team-high 22 points against the Magic. “Sometimes you have to deal with players being out. We’ve dealt with that in the past. Obviously, we want [Rose] to come back. But we had to deal with playing without him. Guys have been able to step up. Obviously, Kirk [Hinrich] has done a great job for us. Nate [Robinson] has done a great job. Marquis [Teague] has done a great job when he was in there. So we’ve had guys step up and do a pretty damn good job.

“We just have to take care of what’s in front of us. [Rose is] doing his job of what he has to do. We’re doing our job of what we have to do. If he comes back, it would be ­awesome. If he doesn’t, we have to go with what we got.’’

Boozer was then asked if he was holding onto the belief that Rose will show up to the Berto Center one day this week and say, “I’m ready,’’ and would lift the team to a higher level in the postseason.

“Absolutely,’’ Boozer said. “I don’t know why he wouldn’t [be a huge boost]. He makes that big of a difference to be quite frank. He makes that big of a difference.’’

Settling for Noah and Gibson returning was a heck of a consolation prize, and their presence was felt on offense and defense. While Boozer did his thing scoring-wise, and Jimmy Butler led the team with 10 rebounds, just the security of having their two bigs back in the rotation was the most comforting.

“That’s’ the real value of Taj and Jo, when teams go small you can stay big, and then you have a rebounding advantage,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s their strength, their defensive ability. And Taj doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is defensively, but both guys were huge.’’

They played on a minutes watch, combining for 18 points, but there was a reason the Bulls had 42 field goals on 33 assists, while holding the Magic to 84 points.

“We found our defense [Monday night],’’ Hinrich said. “It’s a pretty thing when that happens.’’

And they need it to happen once more in the regular season, closing out the year Wednesday against Washington, and doing so trailing Atlanta by a half game for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls want that seed, matching up against Brooklyn in the first round rather than Indiana.

“We still have hopes of climbing up depending on what happens with Atlanta,’’ Boozer said. “We’ll do our job and let the rest take care of itself. But the biggest thing is being healthy going into the playoffs. If we are, we can be very dangerous.’’



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