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Derrick Rose’s continued maturation critical for Bulls

Derrick Rose Bulls have more favorable schedule second half season. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Derrick Rose and the Bulls have a more favorable schedule in the second half of the season. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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The facts: 7, CSN, 1000-AM.

Updated: March 29, 2012 8:15AM

Bobcats coach Paul Silas coached Derrick Rose at a camp when Rose was still at Simeon. Silas was impressed with Rose but would not have predicted he’d become an NBA MVP.

“He had good athleticism at that time,” Silas said. “He wasn’t near the shooter he is now. That has come. He just works so hard and works on his game. He really knows the game now. A year ago, he didn’t understand the game like he does now.”

Rose got an up-close look at Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh at the All-Star Game, as if he needed a reminder of just how formidable his adversaries are. The Heat has two superstars. The Bulls have Rose, whose game must continue to grow if he and his teammates are to avoid being eliminated by Miami a second straight season.

Rose can’t be as good as he was last season when he won the MVP. Now that back and toe injuries are behind him, he must elevate his game when the second half of the season tips off Tuesday night against the visiting Hornets.

Rose’s continued maturation is critical to the Bulls’ success in the second half.

“It comes down to teams that are playing the best and are healthiest in the playoffs,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t think you ever want to approach it where you’re just trying to get through something. You want to improve, do well. You always have to keep in mind what the ultimate goal is.”

Everyone on the roster needs to improve and play at a high level for the Bulls to win an NBA title because it’s unlikely a significant trade will be made. The players on the current roster will be the ones facing the Heat in a possible playoff matchup for the second straight year. How much they’ve improved will decide their postseason fate.

Many NBA insiders believe the Bulls have the deepest team in the league, but that depth didn’t help them against Miami in the playoffs last season, which is another thing that must change.

Thibodeau has to find a way to use his depth to his advantage during the playoffs, when teams normally rely on fewer players playing significant minutes. It might be as simple as using C.J. Watson or John Lucas III at shooting guard for instant offense when it’s advantageous or deciding how best to use Omer Asik’s defensive skills.

“We did a little exercise with our team before the year where we look at the starters and rank them with ours and then the bench,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ll take our starters when healthy with anybody. The Bulls were the one team. Their bench is strong, it’s deep and they know their roles.”

Rip Hamilton must assimilate into the offense, but that shouldn’t be a problem despite missing most of the first half with injuries. He fits this team. It won’t take him long to settle in.

“Its time to lock in and focus,” Luol Deng said. “We had a good first half, but now we’re almost back to where the season ended last year. We’ve learned a lot from last year. We’re going to do a better job of locking in and being prepared and knowing what’s coming.”

More important is Carlos Boozer’s play down the stretch. Boozer’s good health has been one of the team’s positives. He has been a more engaged defender, especially on the help side, in recent weeks.

He receives a lot of criticism, but what he does well, the Bulls desperately need. They need his rebounding and consistent production from the post. He’s even more effective when setting up teammates with interior passes.

Rose wore down during the playoffs last season. That can’t happen again. James and Wade were adding new dimensions to their game when they were Rose’s age. As good as Rose was last season, he hasn’t peaked.

The Bulls need to ratchet up the defensive intensity and take better care of the ball in the second half. They need to make free throws. Mostly, however, they need Rose, Deng, Hamilton and Boozer to deliver in crunch time, and they need everybody else to embrace and excel in their roles.

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