CHICAGO – No Kyrie Irving. No Derrick Rose. No kidding.
Viewers of NBA TV probably knew they were gambling if their expressed interest in seeing Cleveland at Chicago Tuesday night from United Center had anything to do with a possible comeback by Rose. The Bulls’ electric point guard, unplugged since May surgery on his left knee, had been penciled by some to be ready for action at this point on the NBA calendar — though an equal or greater number of Rose watchers were preaching continued patience, into March and maybe all the way to October.
So Rose — despite what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called “daily improvement” Tuesday — was a longshot anyway to hook up (in whatever minutes-limited state he might have come back) with Irving, the Cavaliers’ exciting young point guard fresh off a breakthrough All-Star Weekend. Then the Cavs made that doubly official by ruling Irving out too, lost to a hyperextended right knee that might sideline him Wednesday against Toronto as well.
The missed opportunity Tuesday makes it seven consecutive games that either Irving, Rose or both sat out with injuries. Their teams are done for the season as of this one, which means they’ll be pushing 2014 before fans are treated to what could be one of the league’s stellar 1-on-1 matchups for the next decade or so.
Assuming it ever gets started. This is starting to feel like Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao.
Last season, the teams met just three times in the post-lockout schedule. Irving missed the first one, Rose missed the second and both of them sat out the regular-season finale. There was no preseason clash, either, to start Irving’s rookie season due to the limited home-and-home arrangement of the scrunched prep time (the Bulls played Indiana twice, the Cavs hooked up with Detroit.)
This season, of course, Rose has been rehabbing from ACL surgery. Irving missed the second meeting during an 11-game layoff with a fractured left index finger.
In Irving’s three appearances against Chicago across two seasons, he averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 40.5 percent. Rose has faced the Cavaliers 12 times, averaging 18.2 points and 8.0 assists and shooting 41.3 percent.
Chicago has dominated the series lately, winning 11 straight by an average of 17.8 points. But at this rate, Irving will be older than Uncle Drew by the time he squares up against Rose.
It also might raise questions about the long-term viability of leaning on a point guard — who takes the most punishment, pound for pound, of any player — as your superstar, leader and first (and maybe second) option. Rose and Irving have been as dinged up, with multiple ailments, as any All-Stars in the league the past two seasons.
For now, though, we’ll consider it a fluke.
“I don’t know if it’s weird,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott told reporters at Tuesday’s shootaround. “It’s unfortunate. I love Derrick Rose just as a person. He’s an unbelievable basketball player, but he’s one of our best people in this league.
“So for me, it’s unfortunate to have a guy that is as good as he is … off the court not being able to play because of the injuries. I hope he comes back 110 percent and these two guys will be able to get it on sometime next season.”
Considering that Scott earlier this month said he wants Irving to work out with Chris Paul this summer so he “would learn from the best,” that just throws gas on the potential clash of Irving vs. Rose. If they ever manage to strike a match.