- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls have played 50 games this season. Guess who has started every one of them?
Boozer has quietly become Mr. Durable for Tom Thibodeau's team, which is impressive for a myriad of reasons, especially considering how many injuries the Bulls have already dealt with this season. It's even more impressive considering Boozer only played 59 regular season games last season because of a broken hand and an ankle injury.
"It's huge," Thibodeau said after Monday morning's shootaround. "He got hurt early last year, but I think he came back in excellent shape so I think that's helped him a lot Last year, his injury was a misfortune and then he had the turf toe at the end of the season and an ankle sprain. But that was probably from all the time that he had off. This year he's just been ready, right from the beginning."
Boozer spent extra time in the gym this summer, and it shows.
"He's lighter," Thibodeau said. "Particularly for big guys, I think light and lean, as they get older, is critical."
Thibodeau also noted that Boozer is playing with more consistent force than he did last year. There is a faction of Bulls fans who wish Boozer would take it stronger to the rim, but Thibodeau seems content with the way his power forward has been playing. Boozer is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds on the year.
"He's playing strong," Thibodeau said. "He's always had that strength. I think it's made him quicker. I also think it helps to avoid injury."
Karl praises Bulls: Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl gave the Bulls one of their biggest compliments of the season prior to Monday night's game. Karl was asked how much different the Bulls are without Derrick Rose on the floor.
"I don't think they look much different," Karl said. "Except they just don't have one of the top three point guards in basketball running and controlling their offense at the end of games and [in] momentum situations where Derrick's skills and talent explode. But I don't think they play much differently. I think they play aggressively, they run the same plays. They know that [Luol] Deng and Boozer are big parts of their offense. [Joakim] Noah kind of quarterbacks their defense and they don't give you many easy possessions. They give you a tough 48-minute game by their attitude, their energy, their enthusiasm and their effort."
Karl also praised the way the Bulls have played defense throughout the year.
"Their commitment to do it right every time," he said. "They're a multiple-effort team, they're conceptually very strong. You've got to execute your offense usually to your second, third and fourth options. It's not going to be a first-option game tonight."
The last word: Thibodeau, on Boozer growing into more of a leadership role:
"I think it's difficult to lead when you're injured. The team was new to him. You have to be playing to lead, really. I think that now that he's been here for two years I think he's a lot more comfortable knowing his teammates, his teammates know him. He knows the system. It's hard to lead when you get hurt in the first week, you don't know your teammates and you don't know the system. Carlos has been a terrific player in the league for a long time."