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Derrick Rose excels in physical practice; could play vs. Hawks

Bulls guard Derrick Rose draws foul from Memphis center Marc Gasol as he drives lane second quarter as Chicago Bulls

Bulls guard Derrick Rose draws a foul from Memphis center Marc Gasol as he drives the lane in the second quarter as the Chicago Bulls host the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday January 1, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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hawks at Bulls

The facts: 3 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.

Updated: March 21, 2012 8:14AM

Derrick Rose took a big step forward in his rehabilitation from a back injury during practice Sunday at the Berto Center.

He participated in the kind of physical workout coach Tom Thibodeau wants to see if he can endure before letting him return. If Rose feels no ill effects Monday morning, he could play against the Hawks in the afternoon.

“He defended pick-and-rolls, he went one-on-one, he defended the post, played in the post, defended catch-and-shoot,” Thibodeau said. “He did a lot. We’ll see how he is [Monday]. It was the next step for us.”

Even if Rose returns against Atlanta, or if he waits until the Bucks come to town Wednesday, is it in his or the organization’s best interest to risk a setback in the All-Star Game on Sunday?

That’s the conundrum the Bulls and Rose are facing.

“When he’s ready to play, he’s ready to play,” Thibodeau said when asked if he preferred Rose play in a game before the All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla. “Whether it’s [Monday] or later, I’m not going to base it on anything other than him being ready to play, not the opponent, not the All-Star Game, not anything. If he’s cleared medically and is ready to play, he’ll play.”

Thibodeau said Rose was explosive while running the halfcourt offense in practice. The Bulls didn’t play fullcourt during the workout, however, and Rose has said running has been especially difficult. That might be the next hurdle for Rose if Thibodeau isn’t satisfied with what he witnessed Sunday.

Not that Thibodeau doesn’t have enough to worry about. The lowly Nets ran the Bulls out of the United Center on Saturday.

“Our spacing is breaking down; we’re quick shooting the ball; we don’t have floor balance, which doesn’t allow us to get our defense set, so we’re giving up easy baskets,” he said. “We’re not making the effort that’s necessary with our smalls being back on the raise of the shot and our bigs sprinting back to get our smalls back out. In this league, if you take short cuts, you’re going to pay for them, and we have.”

Thibodeau keeps saying the All-Star Game is too far down the road to worry about. But it’s coming up fast. The Bulls have two more games before Rose and Luol Deng are scheduled to board a flight to Orlando.

The NBA’s midseason classic is unlike the NFL’s Pro Bowl. Star players are expected to play. They want to play. More than 1.5 million fans voted for Rose to be a starting guard for the Eastern Conference. Rose isn’t approaching it like Brian Urlacher or some other NFL veteran looking for an excuse not to participate. He relishes the opportunity.

It’s not like teams will be playing intense defense or Rose will have to worry about hard fouls. Players know nothing is at stake and play accordingly. Because Thibodeau is coaching the East, he will ultimately decide if and how much Rose plays, which is a bonus.

Rose isn’t a fragile player, even though he has missed 10 games with separate injuries this season. Some people are acting as if he’s injury-prone, even though that has been far from the case before this season.

But his All-Star experience will feel different even if he plays and plays well because he has been vulnerable to injury, and the Bulls are vulnerable without him.

Bulls fans will watch him if he plays in the All-Star Game, but it will be through splayed fingers.

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