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Derrick Rose’s first game back at United Center meaningful

Derrick Rose Bulls enters court for Game 1 Eastern Conference first round playoffs United Center Saturday April 28 2012 Chicago.

Derrick Rose of the Bulls enters the court for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round playoffs at the United Center Saturday, April 28, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 16, 2013 9:36AM

Bulls guard Derrick Rose has made a habit of downplaying his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him last season.

The preseason opener two weeks ago in Indianapolis was “just another step.’’ Last week in Brazil was “a business trip.’’

But not even the soft-spoken Rose can squash the significance of playing Wednesday at the United Center. So he didn’t even try.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, especially at night in bed,’’ Rose said Monday. “Thinking about all the games we played, thinking about what I could have done in those games differently, and I’m excited to get back on the court in the UC. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on that court.’’

It’s been since April 28, 2012, to be exact.

Sure, the Bulls made due without Rose last season. They took down the Nets in the first round of the playoffs before the Heat knocked them out in five games.

But it never was the end game for the Bulls. Moral victories from an undermanned roster meant very little to a franchise trying to grab its seventh championship and first post-Michael Jordan.

“This business, you try and win championships, and we feel with our roster and Derrick [Rose] back, we want to give ourselves the best chance to be in that position, and the best way to do that is to have a healthy basketball team,’’ said Bulls vice president John Paxson, who won three rings with Jordan. “We haven’t had that the last few years, and that’s our goal this year. To enter the regular season, be healthy and be at our best come playoff time.

“As much as you can appreciate what we did last year, it’s not what you try and obtain in this league.’’

Not when you have a player whose jersey was the NBA’s second-leading seller globally last year, even though he didn’t play a minute.

Talk of Rose’s knee seemed to be dwindling since camp started, especially after he averaged 13 points in the first two preseason games. He looked like a player with some rust clinging to him but appeared fully capable of dominating once again.

Then came Saturday, when Rose was a late scratch for the game in Rio de Janeiro with a sore knee.

It seemed to wake up the critics who believed that, if Rose would have returned last season, he could have gotten these kind of setbacks out of the way.

What’s nice about sports critics is that they are easily cleansed.

But that’s not what Wednesday is about. It’s about Rose purging himself of the bad memories from the injury. Close the door and move forward.

“I don’t really feel pressure,’’ Rose said last week while discussing his comeback. “I love being on that court, love being on that stage. This is where I’ve wanted to be the last year. Just moving forward, taking these steps.’’

Some steps are much bigger than others.

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