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By Sam Smith | 4.08.2015 | 11:00 a.m. CT
They’re in Orlando; there’s five games left to the regular season; they’re in third place and they’re wearing Rose colored glasses. Hit it!
“Just try tonight and see where it takes me,” said Derrick Rose, who is expected if there are no setbacks at morning practice to make his return from his February 27 meniscus surgery when the Bulls play the Orlando Magic Wednesday night. “I’ve been putting a lot of work in, busting my (butt) to get back. I’m just happy that I’m able to come back to a team where I think we’re playing all right basketball. Just come back and play the way I normally play. “I don’t have any (expectations) for tonight,” Rose told reporters before the Bulls morning dribble around. “Just come out here and play. It (the surgery) gave me a little time to rest. Everybody else is beating each other up. I’m coming in fresh. I will only get better. So it’s a little bit of excitement for my end.”
Yes, they’re putting the band back together.
But it’s played some impressive string music when it has been together with the regular starting group of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah 15-4 when they’ve started together.
Wednesday’s game will be the first time the Bulls are starting that unit since Feb. 23 when Rose experienced soreness. A subsequent examination revealed a small meniscus tear. Rose had surgery a few days later, albeit a common sort of minor procedure which many players have had with routine six week returns. Rose is returning on schedule, set to start out at about 20 minutes per game to build with the five games remaining to begin the playoffs in about 10 days. With five games in that period and then two or three days off before the start of the playoffs, the Bulls appear in as good a physical situation as they have been all season.
If there are no setbacks, Rose should be moving toward playing about 30 minutes. Butler returned in late March from an elbow injury. Dunleavy returned just before the All-Star break from a month out with ankle and foot problems and Noah hasn’t been burdened like he was at the start of the season in a return from knee surgery. Plus, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the Bulls morning practice that Kirk Hinrich might also be available to play Wednesday after missing two games with a knee issue.
“If he goes through the shootaround and then warms up tonight and there are no problems he’ll play tonight,” Thibodeau said about Rose. “I do (expect that to happen). Just getting started now, so around 20 (minutes playing time). I don’t want to jump ahead. I want to see how he feels. I don’t see why not (that Rose can also play Thursday night in Miami). Let him get acclimated a few games, a game or two and see how he feels and we’ll go from there.
“Just him being on the floor is a plus for our team,” said Thibodeau. “I’m not expecting him to play 35 minutes; I’m not expecting him to score 30 points. Just go out there, run the team, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses, make your teammates better. That’s all I want him to do. Whatever it was going to be we are going to make the best of those circumstances. We’re just glad that he’s back; that’s the big thing.”
Though these Rose returns from injuries are treated with great expectations by media, it’s become routine around the Bulls. And this time, especially given the publicized returns in 2013 and last summer, it wasn’t much more around the team than a routine recovery, like Butler and Dunleavy encountered.
Rose’s surgery this time wasn’t nearly as severe, and it came with a fairly constant recovery time that other top players have gone through and come back relatively healthy, like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe. Of course, because it’s Rose given he’s had so many knee problems back to his ACL tear in April 2012, it’s always different. After all, he was the league MVP.
But this time Rose was up quickly after surgery, walking around and back with the team and working out. He was back in so called “full contact” drills a week ago and on schedule for this return, which has long been estimated by Rose and the team to be during this week.
It thus gives Rose and the team five games to build the strength in his knee in games, his timing and the coordination with his teammates. Plus, it enables the Bulls to assume their appropriate roles with Aaron Brooks back off the bench; and with Hinrich due to return Wednesday or Thursday, options for defensive or offensive point guard backups as the occasion demands.
Coming into the season, one of the Bulls greatest strengths was their depth. It’s in theory even greater now with the unexpected emergence of Nikola Mirotic off the bench and as a reliable fourth quarter scorer.
But with the Bulls playing .500 ball since Rose went out after being 15 games above .500 before then, his presence is obviously crucial. And the timing seems fortuitous for a return.
“I think defensively we’re playing good,” Rose said Wednesday morning. “Offensively, I shouldn’t have to worry about it; just come back and play the way I normally play. I feel like me getting back on the court is a good sign. This injury was a little different from my previous ones. I was only out six weeks. This time is totally different and I just have to pace myself.
“I’m going to be winded for sure,” Rose acknowledged. “Just missing so many weeks, so many days, you’re going to be winded. That comes along with coming back from surgery and not playing the game in a couple weeks. (It’s a) relief that I’ve got enough time (left to) actually get some games under my belt and see where I’m at. I’ve got a good feeling about (playing) tomorrow (also), but who knows until after I play this game tonight. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself,” said Rose. “But who knows how many games it’s going to take me? All I can do is just continue to work on my game and push my teammates for this playoff run. I think we’ve been playing all right. Of course, we lost some games that we were supposed to win. But as far as defense, you look from the beginning of the season until now, I think we’re helping a lot more. Offensively, I’m not worried about that. But defensively, I feel like we’re really helping each other and giving that effort that we need.”
It was a morning of good feelings around the Bulls. You felt like ordering orange whips.