It’s one thing for the Bulls to put on a brave face during this injury-riddled, adversity-filled season.
It’s quite another for their opponents, who have no stake in their success, to also affirm their faith in the squad somehow getting things together. Even before Saturday night’s 100-84 victory over the Cavaliers at the United Center, members of the last team to face the Bulls claim to have seen signs that the tough-luck bunch could turn things around.
“They play good basketball. They’ve just had a lot of injuries, so if they can get some guys healthy, they’re tough. They execute and defend, so they definitely can be a team that can get it going, for sure,” Thunder veteran big man Nick Collison, a close friend of Bulls floor general Kirk Hinrich, told CSNChicago.com.
Collison, who talked with Hinrich before his own team’s Thursday-night rout over the Bulls, added: “We didn’t really get into it, but I know they’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of pride and they’re well-coached, so I think they can turn it around.”
Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, had similar sentiments about the Bulls’ ability to turn their campaign around and even make the playoffs in the downtrodden Eastern Conference.
“Definitely,” the All-Star point guard said. “They compete because they defend every night and they do a good job of coming in, regardless of who they may have out or may be playing. But they come out and compete and represent Chicago well.”
Those positive thoughts Westbrook has about the Bulls might be colored for his affection for his offseason workout partner, Derrick Rose. Westbrook went through the same injury and surgery Rose recently experienced and said he has been in touch with his friend and counterpart.
“Yeah, I talked to him numerous times. Checked on him, see how he’s doing, make sure his spirits are up. He’s good,” Westbrook said. “(Westbrook advised Rose to) just take his time. We talked about it. He was in good spirits. It’s unfortunate, but he’ll be back to normal D-Rose.
“It’s tough. I don’t think too many people can go through what Derrick went through, of having one injury, then having another one right after it. It can be tough, but he has a lot of good people around him. I’m going to stay in touch with him and make sure he keeps his spirits up.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks discussed Westbrook’s recovery process and how he’s played since returning to the court.
“The first part of the season was still part of the process of him getting back. I thought he did a phenomenal job. That’s not always easy to come back and play in games without really a training camp. But he managed through it and had a lot of good moments, and we won a lot of games while he was still enduring that process,” Brooks, who played under Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, then a Knicks assistant coach, during his NBA career. “I see the last two weeks that he’s playing at a level that has improved gradually since he came back. When you’re hurt you see the game in a different light. He understands there are so many different parts to a game and as a point guard you have to know all the different parts and they’re all moving and changing and different personalities are involved in it. I think he’s done a good job this year of managing that. Just from the growth that he has experienced the last five or six years because it’s hard to be a point guard in this league.”
Another Thunder star, Kevin Durant, another friend of Rose’s, passed along his own well wishes.
“I talked to their trainer, to tell him I asked about him. I hope he’s doing already. He said that his mind is in the right place and he’s confident that he’s going to come back. It’s unfortunate. When I heard about it, I was hurting because he worked so hard to get back. I worked out with him, and he put so much time in and he wanted everything to be perfect for him. I could tell by his work, and it’s unfortunate for that injury to happen. But just from hearing his mind is right and he’s confident, so when he gets back, he’s going to be the Derrick Rose of old,” Durant explained. “He’s 25 years old. With the trainers and the rehab and all the people that you have now, as far as injuries, that’s helping, he’s only going to get better, especially mixed in with his work ethic, his drive. That’s somebody that’s going to come back at full strength. The league is much better if Derrick Rose is playing, so hopefully he gets back pretty soon and he gets his knee back to full strength.”
Yet another NBA superstar on the Bulls’ two-game road trip, Houston’s Dwight Howard, also had some encouragement for Rose, his fellow adidas endorser.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation for him. He tried so hard to come back from the one injury, and then he got injured again. Injuries are not something that is easy to come back from. It’s mentally draining. If you’re not strong enough to handle being injured, it’s hard. When I hurt my back, just trying to get back into it after five or six months after not being able to do anything, you’re watching guys play and it hurts. I know how he feels,” the Rockets center said. “It just takes time. In this age, people don’t want to hear it takes time. They want it now. But injuries for us, we have to make sure with our career that we take our time to get back right. That’s what he should do. He didn’t rush last year. He shouldn’t rush now. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to play. Just because you see somebody out there working and jumping and running, that doesn’t mean they’re game ready. There’s a big difference. Hopefully he takes his time and he comes back when he’s ready.”