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Bulls rout Cavs 118-92; Rose could return for final meeting

Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) is fouled by ClevelCavaliers forward JLeuer (30) during second half an NBA basketball game

Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) is fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Jon Leuer (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Chicago. The Bulls won 118-92. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:31AM

Memo to the Cleveland Cavaliers: After the 118-92 loss Monday to the Bulls, you’ve had three chances to take advantage of a team that’s short-handed.

On Feb. 26, there might not be a fourth.

That’s the last meeting between the Cavs and Bulls, and it could be Derrick Rose’s return date from surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Rose’s return has been targeted for just after the All-Star break, and the way the schedule sets up, there are two home games in that vicinity. And considering the magnitude of the event, the Bulls ideally would like to make his return a home game.

There’s a Feb. 21 game against the Miami Heat — bad idea. And then the Feb. 26 game against the Cavs.

Of course, anything Rose-related is outside speculation these days, whether it’s coach Tom Thibodeau making sure that’s the case or general manager Gar Forman.

“There is no end game in sight,’’ Forman said Monday when asked about the All-Star Game as being the date frequently thrown out there for a Rose return. “The next step was to get him on the floor where he’s participating in practice and contact activities. So we’re not skipping steps. Once we feel comfortable with that and our doctors feel comfortable, then we’ll go to the next step. It’s not about us being evasive with our answers.

“Everything has been planned out in detail. That’s why we’re taking this step-by-step and not skipping steps. There’s a process in place, and we’ve never wanted to jump ahead.’’

Surgically repaired ACLs obviously don’t care much about making schedule deadlines.

Rose had the surgery last May, and he started participating in light practice a few weeks ago. He made his first road trip with the team last week, and full-contact practice seems to be just on the horizon.

But this is all about erring on the side of caution with the face of the franchise. It’s not about what’s best for the Bulls (19-13) today as much as what’s best for them and Rose tomorrow.

“We want to do what’s right for Derrick; we want to do what’s right for our team,’’ Forman said. “The goal all along is to do that. To take the process step-by-step, to not skip steps, and when he’s 100 percent ready to play, he’ll play.’’

Not that life with or without Rose really matters much when it comes to recent Bulls-Cavs history.

The Bulls have won 11 in a row over their rivals from the Central Division, with only the 16 consecutive wins over the Pistons a longer active streak. The 118 points were a season high, surpassing the 115 they also scored against the Cavaliers.

Throw in a fifth straight double-double by Carlos Boozer (game-high 24 points, 11 rebounds), and very little went wrong Monday.

“Boozer is playing very well,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’re feeding him often. Getting established in the post is very important for us. He’s making a lot of good plays. So it’s all good.’’

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