CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Following two broken hands and a bad thumb that left them short-handed for much of the season, the Chicago Bulls finally got their core healthy and quickly became one of the most feared teams in the NBA.
Now another injury on a meaningless play at the end of a blowout win has cast more doubt about the Bulls' depth.
The sight of Carlos Boozer limping off the floor with a left ankle injury following Kwame Brown's flagrant foul considerably dimmed Chicago's 101-84 victory over the slumping and undermanned Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.
``X-ray was negative and we'll have to wait and see (Thursday) what type of swelling he has,' coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Derrick Rose had 20 points and six assists, and Kyle Korver scored 12 of his 20 points in the decisive fourth quarter for the Bulls, who also got 12 points and 13 rebounds from Joakim Noah in their 11th win in 13 games.
Chicago moved within 1 1/2 games of Eastern Conference-leading Boston, but there was reason for concern in the locker room.
``Carlos brings a lot to this team,' said Noah, who returned Feb. 23 from a thumb injury that sidelined him for 30 games. ``His physicality and what he can do offensively.'
Boozer, who had 10 points and seven rebounds despite early foul trouble, was going in for a layup as Chicago led by 17 points with less than 5 minutes left when Brown swiped and hit him across the chest. Boozer's left leg bent awkwardly as he tumbled to the floor.
Boozer, who missed 15 games with a broken right hand and three more with a sprained left ankle earlier this season, hobbled to the locker room and didn't return.
``This is the NBA, nobody wants to get embarrassed and nobody is going to let anybody get anything easy,' said Taj Gibson, who had 14 points and would be counted on to fill in if Boozer is sidelined. ``That was just a basketball play that Kwame made. It was just unfortunate that it hurt Booz in the long run.'
The Bobcats, the only sub-.500 team to beat Chicago more than once this season, know all about injuries.
Gerald Henderson had 20 points and eight assists, but got little help as the Bobcats played without top scorer Stephen Jackson (hamstring), sixth man Tyrus Thomas (knee surgery), backup center Joel Przybilla (knee) and reserve guard Matt Carroll (ankle) in their sixth straight loss.
The best part about things for Charlotte is Indiana has been almost as bad of late. Its fifth straight loss Wednesday in Minnesota left the Bobcats still just a game out of the final playoff spot.
``We just kind of ran out of gas, but I thought the guys played hard and played with effort,' coach Paul Silas said. ``I told them if they play that way and we get our full complement of guys, then I like our chances.'
Even with Charlotte having only 10 healthy bodies, it took a while for Chicago to take control.
With former Bulls star and Bobcats owner Michael Jordan sitting courtside, Henderson did a decent impersonation of his boss on a twisting reverse layup along the baseline in a third quarter that saw Charlotte take a 68-67 lead on another hoop by Henderson.
Then Rose went to work with a nifty fadeaway and 3-pointer to give Chicago a 75-69 lead entering the fourth.
Korver had two big 3-pointers in Chicago's dominant fourth quarter. The first made it 84-72 with 7:13 left and the second put Chicago ahead 92-75 with under 5 minutes to go.
The Bulls shot 51 percent and held an eighth straight opponent to under 90 points as they continue to show the potential to win the East - if they can stay healthy.
``It's going to hurt us but we've still got to go out there and play the game,' Rose said of the prospect Boozer could miss games. ``We know that it's going to take a lot more energy, a lot more focus going to into games and people are going to have to step up. If he doesn't play, Taj did a great job when he was out.'
Notes: Silas had declared Tuesday that Jackson and Thomas would play. But Jackson said at shootaround the training staff told him there's a ``possibility if I play tonight I might re-injure it.' Thomas woke up with soreness Wednesday after his first full contract practice since his January surgery and indicated he'd ``give it another day or two.' ... Jordan will be in Chicago on Saturday for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Bulls' first championship. ... The Bulls improved to 18-14 on the road, earning one more victory than all of last season. ... Charlotte's Dante Cunningham had 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting in his best game since coming over from Portland in the Gerald Wallace trade.
The Associated Press News Service
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