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Taj Gibson may sit Bulls’ final nine games

Bulls forward Taj Gibsducks betwen defense  Detroit forward Jonas Jerebko (L) guard Khris Middletas he makes his way basket

Bulls forward Taj Gibson ducks betwen the defense of Detroit forward Jonas Jerebko (L) and guard Khris Middleton as he makes his way to the basket in the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls 95-94 win over the Detroit Pistons Sunday March 31, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 3, 2013 9:35PM

NEW YORK — The Bulls are in trouble, and all the “next man up’’ talk isn’t going to save them.

The players the Bulls can least afford to be injured are, in order, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson.

Rose has been out almost a year with a knee injury. Deng is playing a league-leading 39.1 minutes per game. Gibson re-injured the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which cost him 10 games last month.

The Bulls went 4-6 and allowed 97.9 points per game during that stretch. That’s above their average points allowed for the season of 92.5, which is third-best in the league. At 97.9, the Bulls would rank in the middle of the pack. For a team that ranks 30th in the league with an average of 92.9 points per game, the Bulls are reliant on their defense.

With nine games left in the season, the Bulls can forget trying to get a rhythm going into the playoffs. They’re just trying to crawl there and hope bodies heal fast.

When asked to compare his recent injury to his initial injury, Gibson said the pain is similar.

“That’s what they said, same injury, same MCL sprain,” he said. “They didn’t want to make any kind of assumptions. It’s kind of difficult to put pressure on it, but that’s what it feels like when you sprain it.’’

Gibson admitted returning at less than 100 percent to try to help a team that was without Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis in right foot) and Marco Belinelli (strained abdomen), as well as Rose and Richard Hamilton (back).

Now Gibson might miss the rest of the regular season. Sources said an MRI exam showed he re-injured the knee, though it’s less serious than before.

“It’s definitely another big blow,’’ Kirk Hinrich said. “I don’t know what else to say, but we’ve got to hang together, find some healthy bodies, and the guys that are out there have to step up even more. We’ve been short-handed all year. It’s nothing new to us, but we were just kind of trying to nurse him back to 100 percent. You know he wasn’t 100 percent to begin with [when he came back]. We’ve just got to find a way.’’

If the Bulls can get Noah, Belinelli and Gibson back for the postseason, they shouldn’t need long to get their rhythm back given how much they’ve played together.

But that’s a big “if.”

“Of course you would like to build that rhythm going into the playoffs, but if you don’t have that luxury, you can’t use it as an excuse,’’ Nazr Mohammed said. “But I do feel that the fact guys have played together, guys have played some playoff games together, that definitely gives you an advantage because guys will turn it up and take it to that next notch during playoff basketball.

“We have to see what happens. We can’t make a call on it now.’’

Coach Tom Thibodeau can.

“We have guys that are capable,’’ Thibodeau said. “We just have to do it harder, do it better.’’

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