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  • It is a little unusual to hear a team talk about a key game the week before the All-Star break, but the Chicago Bulls are looking at tonight’s game against Atlanta as a benchmark contest. The Bulls are 25-25, half a game behind the 25-24 Hawks, who are one full game behind the 27-24 Toronto Raptors. The Bulls are tied with the 25-25 Washington Wizards. The Raptors hold the No. 3 seed in the East, followed by No. 4 Atlanta and the Bulls and Wizards tied at No. 5. Assuming the Bulls would like to be in the top four teams in the East when the playoffs roll around, they have put themselves behind the eight ball a bit with a 1-2 record against Toronto and an 0-2 mark against the Wizards. They are 1-0 against the Hawks this season. The Bulls are back at the United Center after a 3-3 road trip west that included impressive wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns. “It feels good to be back in front of our home fans,’’ Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said, noting the significance of Tuesday’s game. “We need this one.”
  • Bulls forward Carlos Boozer will miss his third game due to a calf strain, it was announced before the game. He spent shoot-around Tuesday in rehab and did not practice with the team. Boozer has now missed three games with the injury, and Taj Gibson has scored 44 points in the two games as his replacement in the starting lineup.
  •  The Atlanta Hawks have lost six straight games at the United Center and averaged just 75 points in those games. The lost at Chicago Jan. 4, 91-84, and that was the most points they have scored at the UC in those six losses.
  • The winter storm that was affecting the city of Atlanta Tuesday and promised an ice storm Wednesday is coincidentally named Pax, which happens to be the nickname of Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson. Chicago has not reached a temperature above freezing in February yet and had a high of 14 Tuesday. Former Bull Kyle Korver joked about Atlanta’s problems while confirming that Chicago’s weather is not a selling point. “I forgot what real cold is,’’ he said. “We have been flirting with these 20-degree temperatures in Atlanta, and flurries that are shutting down our city, then you come here and remember what real cold is. I don’t miss this weather; no I don’t.”
  • Shoot-around practices are more open to the media than regular practices, and that’s why the media got to see injured point guard Derrick Rose putting up 3-pointers at the United Center Tuesday afternoon. Such visible behavior spurs talk of a return for the former MVP, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau quashed that talk. “He’s out for the year, but he’s doing great,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s running on a treadmill, making a shot here or there. He’s doing well.”
  • Cartier Martin, who played on two 10-day contracts with the Bulls through January, has signed a second 10-day contract with the Hawks Tuesday. Martin played for the Hawks at the beginning of the season before being waived, then joining the Bulls. The Bulls did not sign him long-term after his two 10-day stints. Martin has appeared in 27 games with the Hawks this season, averaging 6.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 17.0 minutes. He played in six contests this year with the Chicago Bulls, and averaged 2.5 points in 7.9 minutes.

Kent McDill

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