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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: Derrick Rose is finding his way

Chicago Bulls Vs Dallas Mavericks 1 St-Half Action. Bulls No.1 Derrick Rose And No.13 Joakim Noah sildeline's  I Scott

Chicago Bulls Vs Dallas Mavericks 1 St-Half Action. Bulls No.1 Derrick Rose And No.13 Joakim Noah on the sildeline's I Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

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Updated: May 25, 2012 8:16AM

Derrick Rose’s speed, explosiveness and leaping ability are what separate him from all but the elite NBA players. None of his strengths was at his disposal when he returned Saturday in the 93-83 victory over the Mavericks at the United Center, so he passed instead of penetrating. The Bulls’ leading man deferred to teammates and was effective in a complementary role.

Rose might not have been able to develop his game this season because of five separate injuries, but his maturation off the court has accelerated.

“A few years ago, he would’ve had a hard time being out there, knowing he’s got to hold back,” teammate Luol Deng said. “He’s matured so much that he still knows how to be effective even though he’s not 100 percent. Last game, even though he wasn’t attacking or anything, he was still running the offense, running the team. He did a great job doing that.”

What goes around comes around, and that’s good news for the Bulls, who had perhaps the league’s most demanding early-season schedule. A team that has missed 97 games because of injuries and illness is as healthy as it has been all season and now has the luxury of three days between games for only the second time.

Even though Rose remains on the mend, he participated in most of the practice Monday at the Berto Center. Nobody expects him to be playing at an MVP level against the Pacers on Wednesday and Cavaliers on Thursday as the Bulls try to lock up home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

At this point, the best-case scenario involves him returning as close as possible to 100 percent while the playoffs are under way.

“He’s been out a long time,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s finding his way, like Rip [Hamilton] has finally gotten comfortable after going through the extended period off. Derrick is going through the same thing. What Derrick has done in the past, he’s gotten up to speed very quickly. Hopefully, that will be the case this time around.”

Getting Rose back in a comfort zone is one reason why Thibodeau wants his starters on the floor for the last two regular-season games while other teams are resting players. The fact that his starting lineup has played only 14 games together is another. The third is even more elementary: Unlike other contenders, his players don’t need rest, he said.

“When you look at what the starters have done, our guys up front, nobody is playing starters’ minutes,” Thibodeau said. “They haven’t all season.

‘‘When you look at backcourt guys, Derrick has played 1,300 minutes this year. Rip has played less. Everybody talks about Luol. Luol only has played 2,000 minutes this season. You have a well-rested team. You have to also keep in mind we’ve played more than 10 guys all season long. That also plays into it. The two things that are important at this point of the season is playing well and being healthy, so if someone needed rest, we’d give him rest.”

The Bulls continue to rely on the same focus-on-the-next-opponent philosophy they’ve employed with so much success now that the regular season is winding down. Deng said Monday’s workout was all about the Pacers, who are expected to treat the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse like a playoff preview.

Deng said the time off — coupled with a healthy roster — makes it feel as if things are finally breaking the Bulls’ way.

“It’s been a tough season for the team,” Deng said. “We’ve dealt with it real well. Guys have stepped up. But individually, it’s been up and down. Everybody has gone through it.

‘‘But we’re coming together at the right time. A couple of days here and then two games and see who we play. It’s coming together.”

Of course, it could all fall apart without Rose. Nobody knows whether he will return to MVP form this postseason, but having him back in any capacity beats the alternative.

“Derrick is a tough player,” center Joakim Noah said. “He demands a lot of attention out there on the court. Just having him on the court definitely helps us.”

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