Celebrate anyway, Bulls fans — Derrick Rose is back!
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist October 29, 2013 11:19PM
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Updated: October 30, 2013 10:18AM
MIAMI — Praise the Lord, there he was!
Oh, it was good to see Derrick Rose playing basketball for the Bulls again.
Was the 2011 Most Valuable Player in the NBA a tad underwhelming and rusty and a bit shot-challenged in this 107-95 blowout loss to the Miami Heat? Well, yes.
Was he less impressive than All-Universe Heat point-forward-center LeBron James?
Did the Bulls get smoked at American Airlines Arena like a thin Cuban cigar? Absolutely.
But let’s remember a few things.
We never knew when and how Rose would return to action after his injury at the start of the 2012 playoffs, and what he did Tuesday night showed he has the potential to be what he was once upon a time.
And he was in uniform again! For one night, at least, that was enough.
Then, too, this was ‘‘ring ceremony’’ night for the Heat, and the energy from that noisy, self-indulgent pregame event — in which Heat members received their 2012-13 NBA championship rings and the Larry O’Brien Trophy was gloriously unveiled like the Lost Ark at midcourt — had to trickle into James and Co. Once Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris ‘‘the Velociraptor’’ Bosh started to light it up for the Heat, you knew this game was a goner.
Home games are like that in the NBA, anyway.
So keep perspective here, hard as it may be. No, the Bulls did not look like the second-best team in the NBA. They did not look like the 10th-best team. They did not look like a team that could contend with the Heat in any seven-game series. Not even close.
But Bulls center Joakim Noah seemed to be injured and sluggish, which he likely was. And forward Luol Deng — well, if he could play worse, you wouldn’t want to see it.
It was also opening day, and the Bulls have hardly played together as a team since Rose went down with his knee injury so long ago.
So those are the excuses. But taking too much from one loss in this endless season is wrong. Plus, the Bulls did make a comeback to keep a 25-point Heat lead from becoming ridiculous.
Rose’s stats weren’t MVP-worthy, barely starter-worthy — 12 points, four assists, one rebound, five turnovers — but he made some drives that were super-charged, and his body control was excellent. (We won’t mention the Norris Cole crossover for a basket that almost broke Rose’s ankles.)
‘‘I’m back to playing the game that I love, against a great team,’’ Rose said beforehand. ‘‘What other way to have it than playing against the champs?’’
Four-time league MVP James was thrilled, too.
‘‘I’m just happy he’s back, man,’’ LeBron said. ‘‘It’s great for the league.’’
Yes, it is. As long as Rose and the Bulls improve so they can actually challenge this Heat dynasty-in-the-making.
The pregame video on the center court Jumbotron in the riotous stadium was telling. Working in someplace resembling a steel foundry or the innards of a volcano, shirtless Heat players swung sledgehammers, did squats with barbells, pushed massive truck tires, dragged chains and, overall, in their glistening, muscle-pumped virility, looked like ‘‘World’s Strongest Man’’ contestants. Medicine-ball tosses, curls with dumbbells, on and on it went, while real flames shot from machines placed on the court.
You could feel the heat — so to speak — on the second level of the arena.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had said he wouldn’t have his team watch the histrionics. And he didn’t.
‘‘We’ll come back to the locker room, watch some film, just prepare like we normally do,’’ he said.
It didn’t make much difference.
So maybe we just write this game off as a teeny step toward normalcy for the Bulls. Let’s hope the bad play wasn’t an indication of aging or anything else. We can, I suppose, wonder if new acquisition Mike Dunleavy can make some plays and shots early in games when those games are starting to spin out of control.
But it was the Heat’s night. And, in a way, Derrick Rose’s night, too.
Ugly for Rose, yes. But he is back, and that has to count for something.
‘‘It’s not the end of the world,’’ he said of the bad play. So you ask him if his repaired knee was a problem at all.
‘‘Oh, no, my knee’s good,’’ he replies with a laugh. ‘‘You don’t have to worry about that at all.’’
Now it’s on to the next step — Rose, and the Bulls, playing the way they should.