TORONTO — Just in time to face off with their familiar foes, Derrick Rose will return to the Bulls’ lineup Saturday night at the United Center, leading the team to a win over Indiana, the Pacers’ first loss of the regular season, justifying him sitting out Friday’s relatively easy 96-80 win over the Raptors.
As storybook of an ending to the weekend that would be, that’s not how things usually work in the NBA, nor is it how things have gone throughout the former league MVP’s comeback campaign. But that doesn’t make him missing Friday’s victory to nurse his lingering sore right hamstring a bad move.
“Just being smart about the situation. There’s nothing like rest and resting another day, then having to play [Saturday],” said Rose before Friday’s contest, explaining why he would be sidelined. “Not overlooking this game, though. We’ve still got to go out here and play, and win this game. But being smart about my body, listening to my body and it was just tight. The tightness didn’t loosen up.”
“I hope so,” he continued, when asked if he would play against the Pacers. “But if it’s still tight, there’s no need to.”
That’s exactly the approach required at this juncture of the schedule. As much as he’s been struggling individually and as uneven as the Bulls have looked, there’s no need to rush the process.
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Think back to the team’s undefeated preseason, in which Rose looked like his old self, if not better. In the grand scheme of things, that’s now long forgotten, as will be his early-season struggles and missing a game here and there for precautionary reasons, as long as he eventually finds his rhythm and is healthy when it counts, something his teammates completely understand.
“He’s a different caliber player, but overall we know that we need Derrick to get to where we want to get to. I think he did the right thing [Friday night], get that thing back to 100 percent and get back on the court, but I’m just happy we got the win. A lot of guys contributed. Hopefully we can get Derrick on the court soon,” All-Star center Joakim Noah explained. “We haven’t had our healthy group when the games matter in a long time, but it’s also important for us to keep grinding out these wins and get better while we’re doing it. I think we’re getting more and more comfortable with each other, keep seeing where guys like the ball, and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, what plays work with what units, stuff like that.”
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So regardless of whether Rose suits up Saturday or rests until Monday’s home game against Charlotte—or even until the team’s West Coast road swing begins next Thursday in Denver—it’s important to keep things in perspective. At the same time, Indiana is a rival (even if Rose doesn’t want to admit it) and it would be quite the feather in the Bulls’ cap to hand the Pacers their first loss, short-handed or not.
“I think we’re playing better basketball as of late. The last three games I think we’ve kind of been building good habits. It’ll be a great test,” Kirk Hinrich, who would presumably fill in for Rose for the second consecutive evening. “They’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now.”