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As Bulls’ season wanes, questions grow about the Derrick Rose return

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose works out before an NBA basketball game between Bulls Denver Nuggets Monday March 18

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose works out before an NBA basketball game between the Bulls and the Denver Nuggets Monday, March 18, 2013, in Chicago. | AP photo

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Updated: March 20, 2013 12:07PM



The Bulls, coach Tom Thibodeau and fans still are waiting for Derrick Rose to say “I’m ready.’’

Two little words that an organization and a city have been yearning for since April 28, when Rose collapsed on the court, grasping his left knee.

And while there is no drop-dead date for Rose to return, there has to be a growing realization that his return might not happen with only 16 regular-season games left.

Or if he does return, what exactly are the Bulls getting?

Is Rose — coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament and with just a month of full practice time under his belt — really the answer?

Joakim Noah is the wrong person to ask.

Noah has been optimistic about Rose’s return all season, and he hasn’t changed his stance. As a matter of fact, Noah believes that a healthy Rose, along with Kirk Hinrich (stress reaction in right foot) and Taj Gibson (sprained left medial collateral ligament), makes the Bulls capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy.

“Yeah, definitely,’’ Noah said. “That was the disappointment I took into the offseason because I feel like if we were healthy, stayed healthy, man, we were playing with anyone.’’

That’s why Noah still is holding out hope. But the All-Star knows that the Bulls have to be a healthy team physically and, more important, mentally.

“It’s important for guys to come back healthy and come back with the right mind-set,’’ Noah said. “There’s no time for guys to be playing hurt.’’

To the credit of the organization, it has been preparing for the scenario in which Rose does not return. Multiple sources continue to indicate that while Rose feels close, he still is missing the desired explosiveness at the rim.

If he doesn’t return Thursday against a Portland Trail Blazers team that has been inconsistent on the road (9-24), what then? Next up is a physical Indiana Pacers team that enjoys knocking down bodies as much as knocking down jumpers. Then a road game at Minnesota. The belief all along has been that the Bulls wanted the point guard’s debut to come at home, but maybe there’s no longer time for that.

After that is a March 27 game against a Heat team that could be in search of its 28th consecutive win.

Then it’s almost the end of the month, leaving just over two weeks left in the regular season. While Thibodeau has insisted Rose would be welcomed back anytime, having him get 10 regular-season games in before throwing him into the high drama of the playoffs would seem like too much weight to put on anyone’s shoulders.

The Bulls can cling to the hope that they return to the elite form they showed with a healthy Hinrich and Gibson in January, going 12-4 with wins over the Heat, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.

But can they get that swagger back?

Luol Deng felt like that 42-point loss in Sacramento last week was rock bottom and that urgency is returning, even with Monday’s overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets.

“Yeah, I think we’re playing better,’’ Deng said. “That game definitely hurt in Sacramento because we felt like we weren’t helping each other as a team.’’

They have been since and are still doing so without Rose. A reality that they could be facing for whatever is left in the season.

The clock is ticking.

NOTE: The Bulls signed forward Malcolm Thomas to a 10-day contract Tuesday. Terms were not disclosed.



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