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Bulls in Orlando hoping for Rose's return

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By Sam Smith | 4.07.2015 | 8:00 p.m. CT

Is he ready?

Is he back?

It’s beginning to look more and more like Derrick Rose’s latest return from knee surgery could be Wednesday in Orlando.

Unless it isn’t.

Sorry about that. Actually, I do believe Rose will play Wednesday when the Bulls visit the Magic. Why else would I go to Orlando when it’s 44 degrees and overcast in Chicago and 80 degrees and sunny in Florida?

OK, forget that one.

The first sign—other than Rose practicing with the team for the last week or so—was the Bulls Tuesday releasing their league mandated injury update. It has both Rose and Kirk Hinrich listed as questionable.

That’s an upgrade from previous reports that listed Rose “out,” and others which were, “Don’t ask.” Well, not really. But no one much did.

Rose last played against Milwaukee Feb. 23 when he had his poorest game of the season, shooting one of 13 for eight points in a win over the Bucks. He reported discomfort. The Bulls followed up with an MRI, which revealed a small tear in the meniscus in his right knee. It’s the same knee where he had the meniscus repair in November 2013. That surgery was a full repair with a long rehabilitation. This time it was a removal procedure, which results in a faster return. The Bulls projected four to six weeks for recovery. Friday would be six weeks from the day of surgery.

It’s not an unusual procedure. Both Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook had the procedure multiple times, like Rose, and have been back playing at a high level. Rose has had no issues with his left knee where he had the ACL procedure since that injury three years ago.

So Rose probably is ready or close to a return, which has several options.

It could be Wednesday (my guess from sources who may or may not know) and then perhaps skip Thursday’s game in Miami and then finish the season playing at home Saturday, in Brooklyn Monday and home against Atlanta to close regular the season next Wednesday.

The Bulls will meet with reporters Wednesday before their game day shoot and dribble around practice. So it will still be a game time decision as even the team cannot make a judgment until they see how Rose gets through the workout Wednesday morning.

If there are any issues, he could wait and then play in Miami Thursday with an offday Friday and then play at home Saturday.

Or Rose could opt to return at home Saturday against a less talented opponent playing for nothing, like the 76ers.

Rose said on ABC Sunday during the game with the Cavs he probably will play this week. So it’s unlikely unless something unexpected occurs that he would wait until next week to play.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has remained consistent in his view of Rose’s return, saying repeatedly it will happen when Rose is ready, that they will limit Rose’s playing time, that conditioning will be an issue, not to expect too much too soon and why doesn’t anyone ask about Cameron Bairstow. Maybe someone should. Anyway, just having Rose on the floor will be a bonus to everyone because of the threat he is to the defense and enabling the Bulls to return to their regular rotation.

“With any player, when he goes through rehab he has to go through the rehab step-by-step, and even though he may be cleared you have to make sure the player is ready to be out there,” said Thibodeau. “That’s the final step. The player has to feel good about getting out there. When he’s comfortable enough he’ll be out there. He’s been cleared for the contact part of it. Being cleared for contact doesn’t mean you’re ready to play. It just means now there are no restrictions in terms of practice. He does everything in practice. But you have to remember, he’s been out for a long period of time. You don’t just jump into a game from there. It’s not going to be anything other than get out there, give us the best you have, run the team. We don’t expect him to be great. Just run the team, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses and concentrate on the improvement.

“Just Derrick on the floor helps our team,” said Thibodeau. “Only he knows his body. I trust him. When he says he’s ready, he’s ready."

And just in time?

Perhaps, yes, the Bulls are finding Rose just in time because before their time was running low. The Bulls were 36-21 after Rose’s last game and now are 46-31.

Rose averaged 18.4 points and a team high five assists in 46 games, all starts, averaging 31 minutes per game before he was injured. The Bulls endured without him, and Aaron Brooks did well with Nikola Mirotic having a big month to help the team survive in Rose’s absence. But the numbers show the Bulls are average, at best, without Rose even with Pau Gasol playing at a high level and Jimmy Butler continuing his terrific season and leading the team in scoring at 20.1 per game.

Rose was having some of his best games of the season just before that All-Star break, averaging 22 points the eight games before the All-Star break with two games of 30 points, including in the win over the Cavs. But with a week break for All-Star, Rose came out slowly. He averaged about 11 points in three games before going out for the surgery. Though this time Rose has been again working and practicing regularly with the team the last few weeks.

But no matter what he can bring, it makes the Bulls whole again as Hinrich said he should return soon as well and thus also should strengthen the bench with Brooks’ return to his expected role.

Because playing .500 ball is no way to prepare to be a champion or make a significant playoff run. So you could say the Bulls were lost, their bridges all were crossed, the losing dice were tossed, there was nowhere to go.

The Bulls are 15-4 this season with their regular starting lineup of Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Gasol. Many around the NBA give that one a big if. But if it is healthy it is a formidable lineup for the playoffs. And perhaps coming together just in time?

Because if now Rose is here the Bulls can say where they are going; no more doubt or fear. Perhaps they’ll find their way.

Could Wednesday truly be a lovely, lovely day?

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