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Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson out with ankle sprains

Rip Hamiltwho scored 20 points drives past Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Rip Hamilton, who scored 20 points, drives past Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 23, 2012 8:24AM

Forward Taj Gibson and center Joakim Noah missed the game Saturday against the Bobcats with ankle sprains.

Gibson’s absence was expected; Noah’s was not. Noah was listed as a starter before the game but was a late scratch. He sprained his ankle late in the first half of the historic rout of the Cavaliers on Friday but returned and said he was fine afterward.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah was fine before the game, and he didn’t appear to be limping.

Gibson, meanwhile, wants to try to return within a week and even said if it were up to him, he would rush back, even though guards Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton reaggravated existing injuries by trying to return too soon.

These Bulls just don’t learn.

“I’m not a guy who likes to sit,” Gibson said. “I try to play through things.”

Gibson sprained his ankle in the second quarter of the blowout victory in Cleveland when he came down on Antawn Jamison’s foot.

“It’s real sore,” Gibson said. “It’s real painful. I just have to take it slow. I’m just lucky nothing was broken and nothing was torn. That’s the bright side.”

Gibson was playing some of the best basketball of his career. Not only has he been a lock-down defender, but Gibson has developed a better jumper and is the team’s best finisher among big men.

“It’s disappointing,” Gibson said. “You want to be there for your team. We’re off to a good start. We’ve got a good thing going. We’ve got a little setback right now, but it’s better to be healthy later on in the season.”

Expect Brian Scalabrine to get more meaningful minutes while Gibson heals. Luol Deng also played power forward against the Bobcats’ unorthodox lineup.

“Lu has shown he can play the two, three and four,” Thibodeau said. “He can guard all five positions. That’s one of our great strengths. We also have the ability to stay big. Scalabrine can defend multiple positions. He can guard threes, fours and fives. We have a lot of flexibility.”

Rose, Lucas sit

Rose sat out his fourth consecutive game with the sprained left big toe. The Bulls are 4-1 without Rose.

“All the swelling is gone,” Thibodeau said. “When he says he can go, he’ll go.”

John Lucas III strained his groin Friday and also was ruled out against Charlotte. Lucas said his groin was sore, but he expects to be available when the Bulls host New Jersey on Monday night. Mike James, who was signed after C.J. Watson and Rose were injured, backed up Watson on Saturday.

“[James will] be fine,” Thibodeau said. “He’s experienced, a very good pick-and-roll player, a fierce competitor. He’s been around.’’

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