No Joakim Noah?
No Carlos Boozer?
The Chicago Bulls, winners of five of their last six games, have maintained their hot play despite the absence of their would-be starting front court of center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer.
Noah, sidelined since December 15th, had been in the top five of the NBA in rebounding.
His loss was seen as a significant speed bump on the Bulls' road towards becoming one of the Eastern Conference's elite.
But as long as Boozer—the 14 million-dollar man and prize jewel of the Bulls' off-season moves—remained healthy, the loss to Noah was not viewed as the end-of-the-world in Chicago.
Boozer, however, has been bitten by the injury bug (again) and sidelined since Saturday's dramatic win over the Miami Heat.
He missed Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. day game and is expected to sit out tonight's home game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Without Boozer, the Bulls looked more than comfortable dismissing the worthy Memphis Grizzlies Monday and should feel even more relaxed in tonight's game against the dreadful Bobcats, who sit at a pathetic 15-24.
The reason for optimism in Chicago, in spite of Boozer's inactivity, is the depth of the front court already in place—although no one would suggest this team is capable of surviving the rigors of the second half without both Boozer and Noah.
Kurt Thomas, a steady veteran signed in the off-season, has played exactly like that over the last month—a steady veteran.
His recent 18-rebound performance against the Indiana Pacers suggests the 38-year-old can still get it done.
He can also chip in offensively, as he snuck in nine points against the Grizzlies after laying in eight against Miami on a combined 8-of-11 shooting.
Thomas is now the default starting center without Noah, and the veteran has done wonders for the club, proving his acquisition over the summer was a wise one.
But it hasn't just been Thomas.
The rookie Omer Asik is providing solid minutes, while second-year man Taj Gibson continues to play an important role.
Asik won't wow anyone with his numbers (2.7 ppg; 3.1 rbg), but then again, he wasn't supposed to. He simply needs to plug up minutes while Thomas and/or Boozer need a spell, and he is doing that.
Gibson provides more than just minutes for the Bulls, as we saw yesterday against Memphis.
Gibson filled in admirably for Boozer, providing 43 minutes and 10 points, seven rebounds, and even six blocks.
For the season, Gibson is averaging 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds-per-game.
The Bulls' bench looks awfully good with him coming off it, but again he provides insurance in the starting front court should injury occur (Gibson was solid in the season's first two months starting in place of the injured Boozer).
Of course, the main reason Bulls fans aren't sweating the absence of Boozer (and Noah of course) is the other-worldly play of Derrick Rose, who has cemented himself as an MVP candidate in just his third season.
Rose's first career triple-double (10 rebounds, 12 assists, 22 points) flew under the radar yesterday, but the NBA world will not be able to ignore him much longer if he puts up similar numbers.
Rose's hot play of late is especially encouraging.
Over the last five games, Rose is averaging 26.2 points-per-game, 7.8 assists-per-game, and 6.2 rebounds-per-game.
Take your time, Carlos.
It seems Rose can score almost at will, but also does so much else on the court with his rebounding and passing that the Bulls can beat anyone on any given night provided Rose is playing.
Luol Deng's 18 points-per-game provide the perfect wing man and offer another way for the Bulls to hurt an opponent.
With Deng on the wing and Rose running amok everywhere else, they will welcome the return of Boozer because it makes them all that much harder to defend.
But, for now, it's no problem.
The Bulls will finish the month of January at home, playing against four sub-.500 teams.
Boozer figures to be back at some point this week, maybe in time for Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
With the depth of the front court, MVP-candidate Derrick Rose, and super wing man Luol Deng, the Bull's shouldn't have a problem.