SAN ANTONIO – The locally generated buzz around the AT&T Center on Wednesday night speculated Derrick Rose finally returning to the Bulls lineup.
Nice try, guys.
No, Rose did not suit up for the nationally televised showdown with the Spurs. In fact, Rose didn’t even sit on the bench in street clothes, as he did Sunday night at Indianapolis.
The dissection of his every move has become annoying but sometimes necessary considering how eagerly most are awaiting Rose’s return from a torn left ACL in April.
All-Star Joakim Noah has grown numb to the tireless inquiries about his teammate’s status.
“There’s nothing more that we want than to have ‘Pooh’ back,” Noah said of Rose. “You have to control what you can control. I know we’ve been saying the same things all year, but that’s our reality.
“As a player, you can’t get caught up on the next man’s thing. You just have to be able to do what you can do to help the team win.”
The Bulls continued to fight without Rose but didn’t have enough in a 101-83 road loss.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 18 points apiece, while Marco Belinelli had 21 for the Bulls, and Luol Deng added 19.
At least the playing field was even Wednesday in terms of injured superstars. Spurs guard Tony Parker suffered a Grade 2 left ankle sprain and is expected to miss a month. Cory Joseph replaced him in the lineup.
When the teams met Feb. 11, the Spurs were without their Big Three of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili and still won 103-89. This time, the Bulls were without Rose, Kirk Hinrich (foot), Richard Hamilton (back) and Taj Gibson (knee).
The effects of being short-handed were felt early as the Bulls fell behind 8-0 just 3 minutes into the game. The Spurs led by as many as nine before the Bulls finally established a rhythm and took a 46-32 lead 2 minutes before halftime. Belinelli scored 14 first-half points, and rookie Marquis Teague was a spark off the bench as he connected on all three of his 3-point attempts.
The Bulls wouldn’t have to rely on such efforts from role players with Rose back on the floor. When, or if, he will return this season remains a mystery.
It would be a die-hard’s dream to see him on the floor Sunday when the Bulls face the Lakers at the Staples Center. Speculation is sure to continue with each passing day, especially if Rose keeps showing glimpses of progress during practices, shootarounds, and pregame warm-ups.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said the team has not decided on a cutoff date for Rose’s return with 21 games left on the schedule.
“We’re just going to keep going as we are,” Thibodeau said. “As long as he’s making that steady progress, hopefully it happens. We’re prepared either way.”
Thibodeau believes Rose will make a smooth transition into the starting lineup if he returns. Carlos Boozer expressed the same sentiment.
“He knows all of our plays inside and out, obviously,” Boozer said. “He’s a great player. Great players figure it out. We have a team full of guys who will help him make a smooth transition.”
Rose certainly would make life easier for the Bulls.