MIAMI — Derrick Rose summed it up in his first words to the media after the Bulls’ morning shootaround Tuesday: “It’s a real game.”
For all of the build-up surrounding the return and even his marvelous preseason performance, when the NBA’s regular-season schedule was released over the summer, this was the game the entire basketball world wanted to see. Rose’s improved physique, outside touch and court sense are nice to see, but until he does it against LeBron James and the Heat, there will always be skeptics, regardless of the fact that he’s already proved himself against other upper-echelon competition, such as Indiana.
“Just having fun. It’s a regular game to me. Going out here, doing something, I mean I’ve been missing this game for a whole year, so coming out here enjoying myself and playing this game that I love playing,” Rose said of his mindset. “For us to be playing our first game here it’s unreal and I hope everybody enjoys it.”
As genuine as he was when uttering those words, make no mistake: Rose understands there’s no love lost between Miami and his Bulls, as evidenced by James who plainly stated that fact Monday when the Heat went through part of practice wearing football pads.
“It’s just competing, man. Of course they got something that we want. We can’t hold back. We have to keep going,” Rose explained. “For them, they have great players on their team where they’re trying to three-peat. They won two already. So it’s a little bit of a rivalry there.”
The former league MVP understands that for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of bringing a championship back to Chicago, his hometown, the burden rests squarely on his shoulders, even with the best supporting cast he’s had since entering the NBA. But Rose believes he’s better equipped now than he was before to live up to that lofty task.
“Oh yeah, for sure I think I’m way better as a player. Just my I.Q. has gotten higher and the way that I play, I think I’m a more efficient player and my teammates allow me to play the way I normally play. That’s a blessing,” he said. “I’m just trying to play the game. Of course, I want to come out here and be the best player. But my whole goal is to try to win a championship. So if it’s me winning a championship or me winning the MVP, I’ll take it. Don’t get me wrong. But my job is to come out here and try to win a title.”
In the grand scheme of things, Tuesday’s game might not mean much come June. But if the Bulls do win a title, the game will be looked at in hindsight as the beginning of the eventual championship run, based upon how Rose fares with the spotlight on him in the season opener.