Rose eases himself back into the flow

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Rose eases himself back into the flow

His numbers were modest11 points on 5-for-9 shooting and eight assists in 32 minutes of playbut Derrick Roses return to the court was triumphant. Not just because the Bulls won, but for the first time in a long time, things felt normal again.

It was good, man. Spirits up just being out there, just getting a lot of love from the fans. It brought me up, even times where I felt down, the All-Star point guard said afterwards, as he answered mostly basketball-related questions from the media, instead of the injury inquiries that hes dealt with for the majority of the season. I just love the game, just being on the courtjust being with my teammates, reallyjust being out there, having the ball in my hands, it was an unbelievable feeling.

Roses playing status, in the Bulls third-to-last game of the regular season, leaked shortly before the contest against the visiting defending-champion Mavericks, began, but Rose knew hed play well in advance.

Rose decided hed play in the morning. But you know me, I dont like jinxing myself, he said. When I got here, I got a lot of treatment, went out there, shot a little bit.

Now, Rose still isnt 100 percent and he wasnt his typically explosive self, but some of that was by design and considering the fact that teammates Rip Hamilton and fellow All-Star Luol Deng had it going offensively, his usual exploits werent needed.

Rose felt a little bit of pain, but during the game, I was just trying to pace myself. Tried not to do anything to reinjure it. Trying to take the game easy, but play smart, Rose explained. Throbbing a little bit, but the great thing about it, we got the win. Got a couple days off, get treatment, stay off my feet and hopefully its going to get better, day by day.

Got to the lane a little bit during this game, but my confidence wasnt that high driving the ball and hopefully in the next couple of days, its going to get better and youll see me back to my usual self, driving to the hole, trying to get fouled, putting a lot of pressure on the defense, he continued. My conditioning is great. I wasnt that tired when I was out there. I didnt push the ball like that, so walking the ball up, seeing whos open, throwing the ball up to Lu and Rip so they could bring the ball up, try to attack. It took a lot off me.

I missed a couple shots, missed a couple threes, jumpshots, but shots that I normally hit, shots that I normally take. Lu and Rip played their butts, knocking down shots, playing defense, rebounding the ball and just trying to make it hard on the other team.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: He looked good, taking everything into consideration. I think he played a very controlled-type game. He was taking care of the ball, running the offense and just trying to get a feel for being out there again. I thought it was a very good first step. Overall, I thought he played very well.

Rose also understands that its a process and he wont play at the MVP level of last season immediately, though hes confident he will continually improve at this late juncture of the season, as the Bulls attempt to clinch the Eastern Conferences top playoff seed and home-court advantage throughout the postseason.

When the opportunity comes, I know that Ill be totally healthy. I will, but until then, just try to make the game easy. We were going to do whatever it takes to win this game. Today, it was me passing the ball, getting guys open, putting them in situations where they could make the right play, he said. We still have to win out. The next one after this is Indiana. Were taking it one game at a time, not worried about any other team, just what were trying to here and were trying to win every game.

We want it, but if we dont get it, theres no excuses. We just cant stop playing because we dont get the No. 1 seed. Our biggest concern is trying to win out, taking it game by game. Were not trying to overlook any other team, Rose continued. Were playing against some good teams and towards the end of the season, people are trying to play hard against us, no matter what their record is. Theyre coming out playing hard and theyre NBA teams, so they can beat you any given night.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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