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If Derrick Rose hadn’t gotten hurt, Bulls would have faced Thunder

With healthy Derrick Rose Bulls would have eliminated HeDwyane Wade seven games conference finals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls would have eliminated the Heat and Dwyane Wade in seven games in the conference finals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 8, 2012 6:59PM



Now that the Heat has again revealed itself as beatable, if not beaten, I thought it might be fun to take part in some alternate history. Fun in a cruel sort of way.

What if Derrick Rose hadn’t torn a knee ligament in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round series against Philadelphia? Would Chicago be considering parade routes right now?

As I said: cruel. When Rose fell to the floor in pain on that star-crossed April afternoon, it was one of the darker chapters in Chicago sports history, a history with the working title of “Darkness.’’

But after watching the aging Celtics win Tuesday and push Miami to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals, most Bulls fans have to be thinking the same thing: Getting to the NBA Finals would’ve been a fait accompli for a team with a healthy Rose.

But would it have been?

If Stephen King can write a novel about changing the outcome of the Kennedy assassination and call it 11/22/63, I can write “4/28/12.’’

Before I lay out the Bulls’ rampage through the conference playoffs, let’s try to maintain some perspective. Remember, Rose collected nagging injuries this season the way some wedding gifts collect dust. He missed 27 of the Bulls’ 66 regular-season games. Let’s also remember that the Bulls looked more worn down than most teams after a season of playing every game as if it were the last.

Now let’s suspend reality.

With Rose (and not a poor-shooting C.J. Watson) in the lineup, the Bulls have a clear and ever-present danger at point guard in their first-round series against Philadelphia. The team’s strut from having the league’s best regular-season record remains intact, and the idea of its best player going down with a knee injury seems unduly alarmist. The Bulls beat the unremarkable 76ers in five games. With Rose taking the ball up the court, Joakim Noah doesn’t sprain his ankle.

Evan Turner says Philly got robbed, and nobody notices.

In the second round against Boston, Rose goes against Rajon Rondo in a fantastic matchup. But Rondo is not Rose. After a season of nagging injuries, D-Rose somehow gets stronger as the series goes on and wears down Rondo.

When the Bulls come calling on the Celtics in the second round, Noah makes sure 36-year-old Kevin Garnett doesn’t get his 20 points and 10 rebounds. Also in my alternate reality, Carlos Boozer plays defense in the postseason. And gas is $1.25 a gallon.

The Bulls win in six games and speed up the aging process for the Celtics.

Soooooo … Bulls-Heat in the conference finals — what everybody has been waiting on for months.

Something is fundamentally wrong with the Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two of the most talented players in the world, but they don’t play up to their talents together. They’re just asking to be beaten.

But Rose is worn down. He went through toe, back, groin and foot injuries during the season. The only thing that can heal him is time. But he soldiers on. It doesn’t hurt that Miami’s Mario Chalmers is a level or two down from Rondo. It’s about the only thing that doesn’t hurt for Rose.

The Bulls win in seven. Luol Deng steps up, his aching wrist be damned. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s gravelly voice finally gives out for good, and for the rest of the playoffs, he communicates with hand signals and his left eyebrow.

LeBron talks about a career change, “maybe something related to The Hunger Games.’’

And now it’s on to the Finals for the Bulls. Chicago is trying to reacquaint itself with how to act. It has been 14 years since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Bulls to a sixth title.

And therein lies the problem. You generally need more than one star to win an NBA championship. Rose is the answer for Russell Westbrook, but the Bulls have no answer for Kevin Durant. That’s OK; nobody does.

Oklahoma City wins in seven. Rose walks away feeling older than Keith Richards.

But there’s a vibe that can’t be ignored. It’s that this Bulls team, with a superstar only four years into his career, a fine supporting cast and excellent depth is positioned to win an NBA title soon.

It doesn’t hurt that the Bulls make a major move in the offseason by signing … I won’t tell you which player. I’m saving it for the alternate-reality sequel.



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