DEERFIELD, Ill. – The sounds of Derrick Rose‘s first practice in more than three weeks Wednesday were encouraging, in as much as there was no discernible “squeak-squeak-tap, squeak-squeak-tap” from behind the closed doors and shaded windows at the Chicago Bulls’ practice court.
So in his most significant test yet since he suffered a serious groin strain March 13, the Bulls’ and NBA’s reigning MVP didn’t require a cane.
Whether Rose will be able to face the Boston Celtics Thursday night at United Center, however, remains in doubt. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was upbeat in comments after the practice about his point guard’s participation, condition and recovery.
Rose sounded more iffy, saying he wasn’t at top speed and didn’t know if he would be capable of playing against Boston’s elusive Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Celtics. As for the media, well, they heard practice but they never go to see Rose do more than shoot free throws and 3-pointers, mixing in at most some one-dribble moves.
“I’m running, able to move a little bit more. So I’m getting healthy,” Rose said in a brief interview before heading for more rehab and treatment. He has missed the past 11 games and 21 overall due to earlier toe and back injuries (Chicago is 14-7). “Taking three weeks off or two weeks off, however [long] I took off, my conditioning is definitely a worry. But in basketball, you should be able to fight through it.”
Thibodeau labeled Rose a “game-time decision” with a little more half-full tone than usual. Normally, that means “fuhgeddabouddit” in Thibs-ese.
“I’m an optimist,” Thibodeau said, smiling. “I always believe it can happen. That’s the way I think. Then I get around you guys, then I think it won’t happen. He does [have a chance to play Thursday]. But again, it’s been great. He’s been patient. He’s done a great job with his rehab. Each day he’s done more and more. He’s feeling better and better.”
Asked if Rose’s movement is limited in anyway, the Bulls coach said: “It isn’t really. Other than today was his first day of taking contact. So we’ll see how he feels tomorrow. His speed and quickness look very good. So I thought it was very encouraging.”
The Bulls are 14-7 without Rose this season, 7-4 during this current absence. But they have lost their last two games – at Oklahoma City Sunday and vs. Houston Monday, their first losing “streak” since February 2011 – and played poorly in both. Their backup point guards, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, have been stretched thin, and Richard Hamilton – Rose’s intended backcourt scoring mate – returned Monday after missing 15 games with a banged-up right shoulder.
Chicago was 10-4 while Hamilton was out this time, 28-9 counting his games lost to groin and thigh injuries. The Bulls are 9-1 with both him and Rose in the starting lineup, but that’s a small sample size on which to stake playoff dreams.
Hamilton admitted that it will take some number of games to get his timing back. Then there’s meshing with Rose, who will have his own layoff rust to flake off. The veteran shooting guard didn’t sound worried, though there are only 11 games left till the postseason. “When we come back,” Hamilton said, “everybody will get their rhythm, everybody will get back into their comfort zone, what they’re used to doing. We’ll be great.”
Asked for some eyewitness testimony about Rose’s mobility, on a 1-to-10 scale, Hamilton laughed and said: “I mean, on Derrick’s bad day, he’s still a 10. He possesses all the attributes. When he’s 100 percent, he’s way over 10. Him not full speed is probably faster than 98 percent of the league.”
Notice, however, that Hamilton didn’t directly answer the question of how Rose is moving, either.