HEAT AT BULLS
The facts: 8:30 p.m., TNT, 1000-AM.
The first time the Bulls ran into the Miami Heat, the back-to-back defending champion was receiving rings and raising banners. The Bulls were brimming with optimism.
My how this season has changed.
Not for the Heat, it’s still an Eastern Conference powerhouse, oozing swagger and headlined by the NBA’s best player, LeBron James.
But Derrick Rose and the Bulls seem to be in a sinkhole with a bottom yet to be determined, losers of six of their last seven games.
That’s why all eyes and ears will be on Rose on Thursday afternoon, when he addresses the media for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery on his right knee. He’s scheduled to speak right after the Bulls’ shootaround at the United Center while the Heat is going through its walkthrough.
Coach Tom Thibodeau expects to hear a player who again says all the right things.
Rose made an appearance at the Berto Center during practice Wednesday. Thibodeau said he has been coming around the last few days.
He said Rose’s psyche already is fully healed. Now if only Thibodeau could get the rest of his players to adopt the same mentality.
“Well, we know what we have to do,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he still thought his team was suffering a Rose hangover. “You could use that all you want, but you’ve got to be ready to play. You’ve got to move on. Frankly, we have to take on Derrick’s approach. Derrick has already moved past it. He’s thinking about what he has to do the rest of the way, this summer, being ready for next year, talking to me about the team, what we have to do.
“He’s not going to be here; we know that. We’ve got more than enough here. Just concentrate on what we have to concentrate on.’’
Not that facing the Heat has ever taken an extra level of concentration from Thibodeau’s players.
There’s no question about the disdain the Bulls have for the Heat. They’ve made that very public in the past, spearheaded by center Joakim Noah.
These are different times for Noah, however, who still sounds like a guy trying to pick himself up off the mat after Rose’s injury.
“It’s tough,’’ Noah said when asked about life without Rose. “We have to fight through the adversity and keep fighting.’’
Easy to say, tougher to do, especially against the Heat. James only gets better with age. He’s shooting a career-high .595 from the field and .474 from three-point range.
“Well, [James’] numbers are staggering,’’ Thibodeau said. “The biggest thing is that each year he has gotten better. That’s a testament to his will to win, his drive, so give him a lot of credit.’’
Thibodeau was asked if James is the best he has ever seen.
“Well, yeah, certainly if you base it on what he’s done already,’’ Thibodeau said. “But I don’t think you can ever judge a player until he’s done. Then you can have the debates on where he ranks among the greatest. But he certainly has gotten off to a great start, and what he’s accomplished speaks for itself.’’