Rose/Butler vs. Wall/Beal should be something special to see, especially since the Wizards’ young duo remain the kids who are coming fast along with the Wizards, a half game behind the Bulls in the conference standings.
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Derrick Rose/John Wall, another classic NBA matchup

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By Sam Smith | 1.09.2015 | 8:42 a.m. CT

In the NBA’s era-of-the-guard, Friday figures to be another one directly to the point in Washington.

“This is like the point guard era,” said Derrick Rose, the only one active now who has a league Most Valuable Player award. “Every guard you play against, no matter what team they’re on, you’re playing against great guards. No matter if they’re in the East or the West. The East is more younger guards, but they’re still trying to make a name for themselves.’’

Add John Wall to that list, the Wizards’ guard, averaging 17.2 points, leading the league in assists and first in the backcourt voting for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Rose is sixth.

Wall in some respects has made this season a challenge after being left off the USA Basketball team for last summer’s FIBA World Cup. Rose was among the guards to make the team.

Obviously, the big story regarding Rose this season has been his return from missing almost two full seasons with knee surgeries. Lately, of course, it’s been his shooting slump at about 25 percent the last six games. Which to a certain extent is good because the conversation is basketball and not health.

But when it comes to basketball, Rose still remains the guard at whom to aim.

Derrick Rose #NBABallot

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“That’s going to be every year, every game, probably until I get out the league,” Rose acknowledged after Bulls practice Friday morning about being a target of the up and coming point guards. “But I’m ready for it. I remember when I was young and there were guys in front of me, me being young (and wanting to prove myself). It’s fun. It’s all about competing.’’

Which is what drives all the truly great players.

You could see it with Rose, even if he doesn’t discuss it often, the last time the Bulls played the Wizards, Dec. 23. Rose had a big close with six straight fourth quarter points, eight overall and 25 for the game as Rose went skipping back after one big score in the Bulls 99-91 win. Though Wall had some spectacular baskets on the way to his 18 points.

With the development of Jimmy Butler, it’s also a matchup of two of the top backcourts in the NBA with Bradley Beal at shooting guard for Washington.

Back in October, I wrote my list of the top projected backcourts in the NBA. I did get some blowback on listing the Bulls second, though I can’t say I expected Butler to be quite this good. I was looking more from the missing defensive component of many of the other shooting guards besides Thompson. I did receive a lot of complaints from Wizards fans about Wall and Beal eighth, though I thought top 10 was positive. Should they move up? Perhaps, but those are some pretty good backcourts. Here’s the list I wrote back then:

1. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors.

2. Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, Bulls.
3. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns.
4. Tony Parker and Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs.

5. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors.

6. Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers.
7. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers.

8. John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards.

9. Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans.

10. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers.

So Rose/Butler vs. Wall/Beal should be something special to see, especially since the Wizards’ young duo remain the kids who are coming fast along with the Wizards, a half game behind the Bulls in the conference standings.

“Two competitive teams that have a lot of edge,” Wall said after the Wizards practiced. “When you play against a team like (the Bulls) you have to be physical and whoever is the most physical team wins those games. We just want to compete and see who can be the best team in the east. You don’t want these teams to go up on you 2-0 in the season series and feel they have the confidence they can beat you anytime they want; you want to even up and make it more reasonable. Tonight is a tough challenge and it’s exciting to play Chicago.”

And then there’s the game within the game when top individuals like Rose and Wall are matched up along with backcourts like Rose/Butler and Wall/Beal. And, of course, from last season’s playoffs there was Nene dominating the Bulls and now Pau Gasol with the Bulls.

But a lot of the attention will be toward Rose and the player who wants to become the new king of the point guards, Wall.

“It’s fun (facing Rose), a lot of excitement, one of those talented point guards,” said Wall. “Everybody knows how great he was before he got injured. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with himself trying to find a rhythm. He’s still an exciting player to watch play; it’s always a fun matchup going against him.

”You look at the accomplishments those guys have made and use that as motivation and a goal you are trying to get to,” said Wall. “Some people have their own top five (among point guards). People have different top 5s and 10s switch throughout the season, so I’m glad to be a part of this era where you can say who’s the best and challenge yourself in this category.

“It’s him (Rose) still trying to find a rhythm, find a niche to feel like himself again,” Wall said in what he sees in Rose. “He did what he wanted to do and did it the right way in his opinion in taking time off and making sure his body was fully healthy and he kind of said it best, nobody knows his body like him. You know when your time is ready. I think he’s still trying to find a rhythm; he’s showing you glimpses of that time when he’s back in his rhythm and the old Derrick Rose is what you see.

“He’s proven he can make those shots,” said Wall, who’s had his own shooting issues. “It’s just about getting comfortable again and having the confidence, and that’s something he is never lacking. He’s missing 20 shots in a row he’s still going to be confident enough to take that game winning shot.”

It’s the best in sports competition, and you treasure these matchups when they develop even if the coaches say it’s only about team. Viewers know.

“It’s about every time you step on the court,” said Rose. “When you step on the court you try and have the best performance you can possibly have. It’s one of the reasons we’re in this profession, to compete and have fun, and try and win as many games as possible.’’

So going against Wall?

“Same as I do against everybody else,” added Rose. “Try and rattle them, try and get them on their heels, and just try and make them play a little bit frustrated. With him, the way he’s passing the ball this year is great. You got a lot of great players around him, a lot of shooters. So you have to make sure that he plays in a crowd, make sure that he sees people in front of him so he’s not always attacking. He’s better. Shooting the ball better; his confidence level is better. His sense of the NBA game is better, maturing into a better pro the way that he works and the way he’s taking the game right now.’’

Quicker than you?

“Probably so,” Rose said with a smile. “A fast guard, great height to him, great size to him. He’s a handful.”

Added Wall: “I just know I’m fast. Some people (are) quick and explosive, Derrick and Russell (Westbrook). When they get (up) you are like, ‘How did they get there and jump so fast?’ With me, I’m just running past you.”

Or maybe not.

“(I) prepare myself all year for these type of games,” said Rose. “If anything, who knows, this could be the game that puts me back in my rhythm. I prepare myself well for every game and that’s all I can do. Prepare myself, shoot as many shots as possible before the game, and the game I do see them go down, who knows, like I said, tonight could be that night.’’