The Nets-Bulls first-round playoff series is just reaching Game 6 on Thursday night at United Center, but Chicago center Joakim Noah and Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson already are well-versed in the agony of "de-feet."
Noah has received plaudits for playing through the pain of plantar fasciitis, but Johnson is struggling with the same malady in a much less theatrical manner.
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How well each is able to play hurt might be a major factor in deciding the series. Noah led the Bulls to three straight wins and a 3-1 series lead, But Johnson was valiant in the Nets' triple-overtime loss in Game 4, hitting jumpers at the end of the first two overtimes to extend the game.
In the Nets' Game 5 win, Johnson played 39 minutes but labored for 11 points, his lowest output of the series. "It's been frustrating for me from the simple fact I can't do a lot of things I wish I could do," Johnson said Wednesday.
"Late in games, I try to do what I can do to get us over the hump. I just have to play through it and gut it out . . . It's kind of like I'm out there on one leg now. I'm a decoy, a spot-up shooter. I'm the bailout guy if you can't find a shot."
It was a stark admission from a player the Nets lean on for clutch baskets. You could call it an even trade-off in the sense Noah also is limited, but Johnson said it's different for a guard.
He admitted the Nets are attacking Noah under the basket with Brook Lopez. "Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "We try to force-feed Brook as much as possible to make him work.
"They do the same thing. They run me off picks and screens and just make me move a lot. I think it's a little different for me and Joakim, though. He's a big man, and I'm a guard. My game is predicated on moving around, chasing guys off picks, going off the dribble, running pick-and-rolls. He has it a little easier."
At this stage, Johnson is a spectator at practice. "I take a [painkilling] shot before every game," he said. "I just try to get through it as much as possible."
Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo appreciates Johnson's effort at playoff time. "Joe's not moving the way we're used to seeing Joe move, but he's out there giving us enormous minutes and production in a very affected medical situation. He's handled it real well."