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Playing vet Kurt Thomas couldn’t hurt Bulls


Even age 38 Kurt Thomas has been productive Bulls reserve. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Even at age 38, Kurt Thomas has been a productive Bulls reserve. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 3, 2011 1:09PM



It will be survival of the ­fittest tonight at the United Center, where the Bulls will play the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Down 3-1, if the Bulls don’t implement another successful survival tactic, their season will be extinct.

They’ve shown an instinct to survive all season. Despite missing starting center Joakim Noah for 34 games and starting power forward Carlos Boozer for 23 games because of injuries, the Bulls not only survived, they thrived to win a league-high 62 games.

Now, their youth has been showing sadly against the older and more experienced Heat. With rookie backup center Omer Asik, the team’s second-youngest player behind Derrick Rose, out of the playoffs with a fractured left fibula, coach Tom Thibodeau is considering playing ­reserve center Kurt Thomas, the league’s second-oldest player at age 38, for the first time in nine games.

Well, why not? If you’re in a do-or-die game, why leave any bullets in your gun? Why not follow that proverbial advice: Shoot your best shot, and give it all you got.

Thomas stepped in and started 37 of the 52 games he played and did a very good job of filling in those gaps when Noah and Boozer were sidelined. He averaged 22.7 minutes, 4.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, a miniscule 0.8 turnovers and 1.2 assists a game. Moreover, he shot an impressive 51.1 percent from the field.

In the playoffs, Thomas has played six games, averaging 9.3 minutes, 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds and is shooting 61.5 percent. Obviously, he hasn’t hurt the Bulls with the scraps of minutes he has gotten.

Asked if the 6-9 Thomas would get the minutes that would have gone to the 7-foot Asik, Thibodeau gave an uncertain answer Wednesday.

“He may, yeah,” Thibodeau said. “We also have the option to go small. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Thibodeau said his team was “fine” after the 101-93 overtime loss Tuesday in Game 4. The team lost its third consecutive game for the first time this season.

“We’re fine, we’re fine,” Thibodeau said. “We’re just going to make the necessary corrections and get ready for [tonight’s] game.”

Why not play Thomas? He’s ready. I didn’t have to even ask whether he was. I just know he has always been ready and has played with high efficiency whenever his number has been called. He’s an old-school professional. This is why he has played for seven NBA teams in 16 seasons. His services have been in demand. And he more than justified the Bulls’ signing him as a free agent last summer. It’s scary to think of what the Bulls would have done this regular season if Thomas had not been on the roster.

He’s a smart player who has been a source of invaluable knowledge to his younger teammates. He still has a reliable 15-foot jumper, is skillful at taking charges and is a polished defender and rebounder.

So why not Thomas? Don’t hold his birth certificate against him. Dallas Mavericks starting point guard Jason Kidd is 38. Heat reserve forward Juwan Howard is 38. The Mavs’ Jason Terry and Shawn Marion are 33. And the Heat has six players 33 or older.



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