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Tom Thibodeau must weigh Derrick Rose’s health vs. short-term gain

Bulls guard Derrick Rose played 22 unnecessary minutes against Hornets Wednesday. | Bill Haber~AP

Bulls guard Derrick Rose played 22 unnecessary minutes against the Hornets on Wednesday. | Bill Haber~AP

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Updated: March 11, 2012 8:51AM

To find a team worse than the Hornets, you’d probably have to go to the Chicago Public League.

Yet Derrick Rose and his grumpy back played 22 senseless minutes in a blowout victory over New Orleans on Wednesday night. I’m not sure what the purpose was of him even laying eyes on the court. The Bulls could’ve beaten the Hornets with John Lucas VI at point guard, and he won’t be born for another 40 years or so.

Someone needs to introduce coach Tom Thibodeau to the word “chill.’’

The very things we admire about Thibs — his drive, his attention to detail, his demanding nature — are not the best attributes to have in this crash diet of a season.

You’ve heard players and coaches say that an NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. The problem with the condensed 66-game schedule is that it’s both. It calls for a coach with restraint. The Bulls are coming off seven games in 11 days. They play Friday night in Charlotte against the Bobcats, who at 3-22 are in New Orleans-bad territory.

The Bulls have one of the deepest benches in the league. What is the sense of sending Rose into a game they know they’re going to win? And please don’t give us the coach-speak that anybody can beat anybody else in the NBA. The Hornets are an insult to god-awful. But more to the point, if the Bulls should drop a game to a lesser opponent, so what?

“If a guy is injured, he shouldn’t play. But if he can play, he should play,” Thibodeau said. “Somehow there’s this notion of guys sitting out games. Pretty soon we’ll be at the point where a guy sits out the whole season and just plays in the playoffs.’’

It sounds like a health-class teacher’s warning: One day you’re taking a sip of beer for the first time, the next you’re mainlining heroin.

Getting a high seed is always a goal, but getting to the playoffs healthy and relatively rested should be the goal this season. The Bulls expended a lot of energy accumulating the most victories in the league last season, then looked worn down in the conference finals against Miami.

At 22-6, they have the best record in the East, but will there be a reckoning? Are they going to get to the postseason and run into teams that have paced themselves better?

I’ve already said that Rose, whose drives to the hoops are wonderfully, frighteningly reckless, is a bad injury waiting to happen. But better that than death by a thousand back spasms. It’s Thibodeau’s job to save Rose from himself.

Given Thibs’ reputation for relentlessness, when he relented and reduced Rose’s minutes Wednesday night, it felt like a drill sergeant putting a flower in the barrel of a rifle. But there’s scant evidence that he understands players aren’t plow horses.

After Rose had played only 11 minutes the previous game because of his aching back, the smart thing would’ve been to rest him in New Orleans.

There was no compelling reason for him to play against the Hornets. There’s no compelling anything about the Hornets.

Besides the back issue, Rose has battled turf toe and an elbow injury this season. No one can say for sure if the compressed schedule is the cause for his physical problems.

The Bulls have played 28 games in 47 days, six more games than they played in the same span last season.

But now that the injuries have piled up, most people know the solution: rest.

It’s impossible to picture Rose agreeing to sit for a prolonged period. He’s not built like that. He wants to play at all costs.

It’s up to Thibodeau to decide what cost is too much. That’s his responsibility as a coach. He needs to weigh Rose’s health against any short-term gain of victories. And it’s not just Rose. It’s Luol Deng. It’s Joakim Noah. It’s everybody.

Richard Hamilton might not be in the predicament he’s in if someone had told him that to play with a groin injury against his former team Detroit would be fun for a couple of hours but brutal beyond that.

Thibodeau smiled when actor Will Ferrell introduced the lineups over the PA system Wednesday. Smiling in that moment is not easy for someone as consumed as he is. Neither is tapping the brakes. But it needs to be done.

More laughter, Thibs. And maybe a chill pill or two.

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