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Giant step forward in depth

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It might not be determined until an hour or so before the game tonight against the Orlando Magic at the United Center whether Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson will play.

But if both players are on the active roster -- which looked likely after each practiced Tuesday without issue -- it finally will give Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau the front-court versatility everyone envisioned when Boozer signed as a free agent over the summer.

''I like our depth upfront,'' Thibodeau said.

If Boozer plays, Thibodeau said he will start at power forward and probably play in seven- to eight-minute stints.

If both play, Gibson -- who has started all 14 games he has played this season -- will come off the bench. He always knew he was keeping the position warm for Boozer.

''I'm not really worried about coming off the bench,'' Gibson said. ''Last year, coming off the bench, I was thriving and playing my game.

''And there'll be some times when I'll be in there with Carlos. Coach just told me he wants me to keep doing what I'm doing. He wants me to keep going up, he wants me to keep pushing my game to another level.

After practicing for a second straight day, Boozer said he's eager to make his Bulls debut, but he wasn't ready to declare his right hand ready for game action.

''It felt pretty good,'' he said. ''Still a little sore. I may or may not play, but I'm hoping this week or this weekend. If not [tonight], then Friday or Saturday.''

The usually guarded Thibodeau was more optimistic, essentially saying he expected Boozer to play barring an 11th-hour setback.

''He's not having any problems,'' Thibodeau said. ''As long as he's comfortable, we're ready to get started.

''He looked good [Tuesday]. He said he didn't have any problems from [Monday]. I think his conditioning's really good and he did a really good job in practice.''

Boozer's low-post scoring and his ability to play in the pick-and-roll will provide an offensive boost and take some of the pressure off point guard Derrick Rose.

Gibson going to the bench also should help the second team by providing a low-post presence that unit has lacked.

''I think Taj has a very underrated post game,'' Thibodeau said. ''The only thing that has slowed Taj down somewhat has been his foot. I think Taj does a lot of things in the post and the pick-and-roll and his jump shot is a lot better than it was a year ago.''

After sitting out Monday, Gibson practiced on Tuesday. The foot/ankle injury he's been dealing with for more than a week persists, but he said he should be able to play through the pain.

''The doctors told me I'm not in danger of hurting myself further,'' he said. ''It was sore. It was real sore. I'll just take my time with it.''

Gibson is averaging 26.9 minutes per game and Thibodeau said his playing time won't change much. The coach also said center Joakim Noah, who's averaging 39 minutes, will continue to play around the same amount.

Rookie center Omer Asik figures to see his playing time reduced (depending on matchups) and Thibodeau is hoping to reduce Luol Deng's minutes by not playing him as much at power forward.