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Professional

NBA: Bulls confident – if they're on their game

CHICAGO – Kirk Hinrich is doubtful with a calf injury. Luol Deng and Taj Gibson are fighting illnesses severe enough that both stayed home from practice Wednesday. And Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis has improved, but remains a fickle injury that can worsen at any time.

Anybody ready for Game 6, a closeout opportunity at home Thursday night?

The Bulls say they are.

“We feel like if we come to play, we’ll have a very good chance of winning,” Hinrich said.

Hinrich’s words came in answer to a question regarding whether the Bulls are bothered that Gerald Wallace and Andray Blatche have commented on their belief the Nets are clearly the better team.

“Well, um, that’s how they feel,” Hinrich said. “We just have to be right for one game.”

Not surprisingly, coach Tom Thibodeau downplayed the comments as well.

“If we have to rely on that. ... to me, it’s meaningless,” he said.

Thibodeau merely focuses on basketball, not silly bulletin board material. His players do the same and know they need to play better to avoid returning to Brooklyn for a potential Game 7 on Saturday.

During the regular season, the Bulls outrebounded 48 opponents and tied four others, but they have been outrebounded in three of the first five games of this playoff series. The Nets also lead in offensive rebounding 53-47.

Gibson is averaging just two rebounds in a little above 15 minutes per game. Noah is averaging eight boards in close to 27 minutes.

“We always talk about it – defend, rebound, low-turnover, inside-out, share the ball – so we always measure ourselves in those categories,” Thibodeau said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a regular-season game or a playoff game. That’s what it takes to win in this league. You have to do it consistently.

“In the playoffs, everything is tightened. You’re playing the same team over and over, so often it’s the ability to get to a loose ball or a second or third effort to keep the ball alive. There were several plays in which we defended them well and we didn’t finish our defense. So that’s probably the biggest thing to correct.”

The Bulls also need to guard Brook Lopez and Deron Williams better – they’re averaging a combined 44.2 points – and feed Carlos Boozer, who took just eight shots in Game 5.

“Lopez has been very good,” Boozer said. “We have to make his catches tougher, do a better job helping, not foul as much.”

Blowing a closeout opportunity at home certainly would leave the Bulls in a foul mood.

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