Derrick Rose went through what looked like his normal pregame routine at the United Center but won't play against the Nets on Saturday.
"He's getting closer and closer," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's pretty close. He's responding well to everything, his treatment. He's increasing his workload but we just want to be patient."
Rose has missed five games with lower back spasms but could return as soon as Monday when the Bulls host the Atlanta Hawks. Rip Hamilton has also been increasing his work load, but since he has missed 11 games with a thigh injury and 21 overall it's more likely his first appearance will be pushed back to Wednesday's game against the Bucks or after the All-Star Game when he's had time to get into game shape.
"He's still a ways away," Thibodeau said of Hamilton.
Ideally, Thibodeau would prefer both players test their injuries in practice before playing in a game. The league's condensed schedule complicates that, however. The Bulls will likely practice on Sunday at the Berto Center, for example, but with a Monday afternoon game looming it will be more like a shootaround.
"It's hard because of the type of season we're in," Thibodeau said. "You're practices aren't full scale practices the way they normally would be where you have contact. It's hard to judge. You want to make sure they're ready to compete in a game. No matter what you're doing in practice you can never get to a game-like intensity. You strive to get as close to it as you can but you never get there.
"Both guys are doing well. We just have to be patient."
If Rose doesn't play Monday or Wednesday it may be harder for him to justify playing in the All-Star Game next weekend.
"If he's cleared he'll play if he can play," said Thibodeau, who will coach Rose and Luol Deng in the All-Star Game. "If it's better for him not to he won't. We'll wait to see where we are. That's a long way off."