Tom Thibodeau said with a grin at Bulls shoot around this morning that he likes to be cautiously optimistic.
All joking aside, the Bulls have maintained a cautious mentality over the past week and that will continue in the hours approaching their game with the Miami Heat at the United Center tonight.
While Luol Deng is set to play, point guards C.J. Watson and Derrick Rose are game time decisions. Rip Hamilton will not play.
Thibodeau said Deng is fine after sitting out the past two games to rest his wrist while Rose was held out of shoot around still nursing a sore groin. The good news for Rose is that he felt no residual effects from the car accident he was involved in Tuesday afternoon.
Watson has missed five games with a sprained left ankle.
The injuries to the team's backcourt prompted the Bulls to re-sign Mike James for his third stint with the team this season. But regardless, the already difficult task of scoring on a stingy Miami defense will only prove more difficult without Rose.
"They were great defensively last year," Thibodeau said. "That's the thing. And again that's been a staple of their organization for a long time. They've always been a great defensive team and I think the big difference this year is their experience. They've been together for a year now. They got off to a quick start and they've been playing very consistently all year long."
In the event that Rose and Watson both scratch, Mike James will see significant playing time in their stead.
James hasn't seen any NBA action since Feb. 22 but has stayed in game shape. With the trade deadline approaching Thursday, James said that he had anticipated getting interest from other teams.
A veteran well-versed in Thibodeau's system, James will provide the stabilizing presence needed under the circumstances of the Bulls' most important regular season game to date.
"They understand the importance of this game," James said. "They want home court advantage in the playoffs and every game counts. You'll probably get their best game tonight. It will probably be a playoff atmosphere."
The Bulls are currently riding a five-game losing streak to the Heat dating back to last season's Eastern Conference Finals.
In the two teams' only meeting this season in Miami, the Bulls lost 97-93. With the Bulls down one and 22.7 seconds remaining in the game, Rose botched a chance to take the lead when he missed two straight free-throws.
"It's been a strange series all together," Thibodeau said. "They won five in a row, we won four in a row. All the games have been close. So that's the way it is. But those games have nothing to do with tonight's game. We just got to be ready to go."