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Focus on bigs as Nets and Bulls practice for playoffs

Guards getting attention but battle of the paint could be key

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

With each passing day, it appears less and less likely Derrick Rose will play in this year's post-season. The Bulls are cagey but there's no indication that after a full year off, Rose will return for the playoffs. If he does, how much could he bring? In fact, the latest is that he won't return until training camp.

Deron Williams, on the other hand, may be playing the best basketball of his career and is looking forward to the playoff challenge, his first as a Net but not his first in the NBA. "It’s been two years since I’ve been there, so I’m ready to go," he told writers Thursday.

That said, the big battle is likely to take place up front where the Bulls have one solid starter in Carlos Boozer --a noted Nets killer-- along with forwards Taj Gibson, recovering from a knee injury; and Joakim Noah, with plantar faschicitis. The Nets bigs are healthy, although Reggie Evans has a bit of a shoulder issue which he says will not affect his play.

Of course, there's always doubt about how a player will react when faced with the do-or-die aspect of the playoffs. His teammates are not worried about Brook Lopez.

"Hell, yeah," Evans said when asked if Lopez was ready to go. "Man, look at Brook. Brook is probably, what, a top-two big man? Brook is a whole different person right now, and that's in a good way. Can't nobody stop him. Only person that can stop Brook is Brook. That's it. Brook is a beast right now. Brook is on a mission, so it's great to be playing beside him. He's my least concern in terms of being ready."

In Chicago, Tom Thibodeau is encouraged by the recent play of Nazr Mohammed, who the Nets originally wanted to back up Lopez but signed with the Bulls.

"That's the one plus from Jo and Taj being out. I think it got Nazr into rhythm," Thibodeau said. "He has done a great job all year just working even when he wasn't playing"

Of the two, Noah is the bigger concern. He logged only 28 minutes, 42 seconds over the final two regular-season games after sitting 12 of the previous 13.

Thus far, the punditry is divided, with a slim majority --six out of 10-- of ESPN writers picking the Bulls, with Tom Haberstroh, Marc Stein, David Thorpe and Michael Wallace going with Brooklyn. The most optimistic is Thorpe who has the Nets in five.