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Bulls still playing with an eye toward Derrick Rose

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose before an NBA basketball game against Philadelphi76ers Thursday Feb. 28 2013 Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose before an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: March 4, 2013 10:13PM



Chatting casually with local reporters in the Bulls’ locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse after a 97-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, Derrick Rose admitted to being a little chagrined that every move he makes is overscrutinized and overanalyzed.

Rose being on the bench for the first time since his knee surgery — in a dress shirt and sport coat — seemed to take on a life of its own. Not even Vladimir Radmanovic driving the baseline for a vicious dunk could trump the fact that Rose was not only on the bench, but really into the game. When Marco Belinelli mishandled a sharp pass from Joakim Noah for a turnover that led to a Pacers fast break, Rose jumped off the bench with a frustrated look on his face. I know this because like everybody else, I was keeping half an eye on the game and half an eye on Derrick Rose.

Life was a lot easier for Rose when he played basketball for a living. But as uncomfortable as that might be, Rose can take solace in the fact that his teammates are tethered mentally to the former league MVP even more than we are. Maybe it’s just the time of the season — a long way in, but a long way to go — but the Bulls seem to be taking their cues from Rose more than Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls are a good team in a funk right now, sending a subliminal message to their recuperating superstar: ‘‘We need you.’’ What else to make of the blowout losses to the Heat, Spurs and Thunder? Or Sunday night’s loss to the Pacers, when their best hope was an effort-and-energy start and they came out flat and forced Thibodeau to turn to Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed and Marquis Teague for a boost?

‘‘We played from behind most of the night,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘It’s important to play with a lead. We’ve got to come out with more fire to start the game. More intensity. The level of intensity has to be a lot higher.’’

Without Rose, the Bulls are unable to take the initiative against teams that are as well-coached as they are. The Pacers take the Rose-less Bulls as seriously as any team in the NBA and it showed again Sunday night as it did in a loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last month.

‘‘They’re a good team,’’ Noah said.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ said Luol Deng, who typified the Bulls’ effort by scoring five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first three quarters and 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. ‘‘It happens. So many games. We didn’t start well.’’

Outside of lighting an actual fire under his players’ butts, it appears the only spark the Bulls are going to get is from Derrick Rose — and not in a dress shirt and sport coat telling Jimmy Butler where the screen is coming from.

Over the past two seasons, Thibodeau has conditioned his team to play without Rose. But — as was painfully evident in the playoffs against the 76ers last season — only with the expectation that Rose would return. Once he was gone for good, the Bulls were a shell of the team that tied the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA (50-16).

So with six weeks and 22 games left in the regular season, the Bulls quickly are reaching a breaking point. Rose shouldn’t return until he’s physically and mentally ready. But at some point, the Bulls have to know one way or the other. Whether they realize it or not, the suspense is killing them.



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