Chicago Sun-Times

January 2013 Archives

derrick-rose-214a.jpgMILWAUKEE - Here's what we already know about the Derrick Rose situation:
Fact - The injured Bulls point guard has been taking in full contact for the last week.
Fact - Because of the number of games the last week, much of that contact has come in early workout groups that head coach Tom Thibodeau brings in specifically to get Rose as close to game-like situations as possible.
Fact - He isn't expected to return from the surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee until after the All-Star Break.
Fiction - That all this was learned this morning, as one media outlet would like you to believe.
Thibodeau was asked about Rose's status after the Tuesday practice, and said, "Same. Just working his way through things. He's doing great.''
He was then asked about Rose again before the Wednesday shootaround, despite the team having no sort of workout from after the Tuesday practice and before the shootaround, and all of a sudden it's passed off as a "breaking Rose update.''
The "Rose Hysteria'' continues.
Since he began taking full contact last week, the only two things to watch for at this point are setbacks with the knee, and Feb. 26. As was written in the Sun-Times earlier this month, that home game with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the ideal time to bring him back as long as he continues to progress, and there is growing speculation that Feb. 26 could be the night that the lights are flipped on for "The Return.''
The Bulls want it to be a home game first of all, and secondly, it's a stretch of three consecutive home games, so that Rose would be able to be around team doctors and the facility if there are setbacks.

As far as tonight's game with Milwaukee, here are the three keys:

1. More hammy problems - Now that Luol Deng is over his hamstring problems, Carlos Boozer is a game-time decision against the Bucks because of a sore right hammy that's bothering him. Expect the Bulls to be extra careful with Boozer, considering Deng tweaked his hamstring in Toronto two weeks ago, then tried to play through it in Boston and really messed it up. It cost Deng five games, before he could return in the win over Charlotte.

2. Throw home-court advantage out the window - This will be the fourth time the Bulls and Bucks have met this season, and the road team is 3-0. As a matter of fact, the Bulls feel very comfortable playing at the Bradley Center, evident by their current five-game winning streak in Milwaukee's own backyard.

3. Big bank take little bank - There's a reason Rip Hamilton has had success scoring against the Bucks this season, including a 22-point showing against Milwaukee the first meeting of the season: His ability to post up the smaller Milwaukee guards. Expect that to be a big part of the gameplan again tonight, especially early on. At last look, the Bucks Brandon Jennings was still 6-foot-1 and Monta Ellis was still 6-3. Hamilton is listed at 6-7.

bulls2.jpgAll-Star reaction Friday, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, center Joakim Noah and small forward Luol Deng all spoke about the two Bulls going to Houston for the All-Star Game, and the one Bull who was left off, in Carlos Boozer.

The best of what they had to say:

Thibodeau on what it meant to send two guys, and one isn't named Derrick.

"As I told them today, first of all I think it's a great honor for both Jo and Lu. I also feel that Carlos is having an All-Star year and he's an All-Star, he's just not playing in that game, so all three I thought were deserving. But I'm thrilled for Lu and Jo, I think it's a great honor. I also think it's an honor for our team and our organization, and all their teammates. When you win people recognize that, I think there's value in that. But Jo and Luol have worked so hard, and they've earned it. So we're thrilled for them.''

Thibodeau On Boozer showing enough that he should at least be a replacement player if that opportunity happens.

"I do, I do. As I've said, these things are always tough because there is limited space and there's deserving players. It's a very difficult decision to make. I think Carlos has been unbelievable, so I think he's deserving and it would be a great honor. And he's not the only one. I look at Golden State, and David Lee has had a terrific year, but [Stephen] Curry has been terrific as well, and he's very deserving. To me, both of those guys are All-Star players, having All-Star type years, and they're just not going to play in the game as of right now. That can always change.''

Deng on being an All-Star for a second-consecutive year.

"It's exciting to do it again. Consistency is a big part of what I want to be and what I do. I'm just glad I've had the chance to do it again. The way we've been playing and the coaching staff we've had the last three years, the teammates, it says a lot. I don't think I would get it if we don't have the record we have. It says a lot about our team. I didn't get it the first year with Coach Thibs but I felt I had a great year that year. The system is perfect. It allows me to show a lot more than scoring. I can show a lot of people what I can do. To do it again shows you're consistent. That's over with and you go to the next challenge.''

Noah on how the system has helped showcase his talents enough to be recognized.

"No question. I wouldn't be here without my teammates, my coaches, and this organization. They believed in me. I came in as a young, loud, probably a little immature, with a big mouth, and they always believed in me through the good times and the hard times, and I just want to say I appreciate them.''

Noah on did Boozer deserve a spot, as well.

"I feel like I wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for Carlos, especially. He's somebody who demands so much attention because of how good he is offensively and I'm able to get a lot of easy baskets because of Carlos, his passing ability. I feel like he's somebody who's very well-deserving and I feel like we've been through a lot in almost three years now together, and I feel like we're playing our best basketball together right now, so I appreciate playing with him and I feel like he's somebody who's working really, really hard, and we know at the end of the day that our goal is not to make All-Star Games. Our goal is bigger than that, but I just want to say that I appreciate him because he's just as deserving as anybody.''

TomThibs.jpgThe daily Derrick Rose news was good on Wednesday, as the point guard had no setbacks from a Tuesday practice with "more contact.'' Meanwhile, Luol Deng remains a "game-time'' decision for the meeting with the Pistons at the United Center tonight, as the small forward was feeling "a little better,'' recovering from a strained right hamstring.
Considering that Deng first suffered the injury in Toronto and they thought it healed enough to play him in Boston when he re-injured it, expect the team to be overly cautious in when they bring him back.
That means Jimmy Butler would likely be back with the starters, as the Bulls ride a 16-game win streak over Detroit into the showdown.

Keys to making it 17-straight wins over the Pistons:

1. Let it go, Kirk - Point guard Kirk Hinrich scored a season-high 22 points in the win over the Lakers on Monday, shooting 9-of-11 from the field along the way. Detroit is a guard-heavy team, and the best way to keep the Pistons on their heels is making them work on defense. If Hinrich can keep the aggressiveness on offense up, it helps the Bulls on both sides of the ball.
"The game tells him when to shoot,'' head coach Tom Thibodeau said of his floor leader. "The primary responsibility for the point guard is to run the team. So I want him to run the team, play great defense, and take the shots that are presented to him when he's open after he's run the team.
"Your primary scorers have the responsibility to read the defense, and when they are guarded one-on-one they should attack and score, and when the secondary defender comes hit the open man. What I don't want [Hinrich] to do is pass on open shots, which I thought he was doing earlier in the year. When you do that often times it leads to taking a lesser shot or a poor shot, or being stuck at the end of the clock. He's reading things a lot better. His focus has been on running the team smoothly and I think he's doing that right now.''

2. Butler did it - Second-year player Jimmy Butler is not only turning into a defensive stopper - aka "The Mamba Killer'' - but continues to be a nightly highlight with his ability to play above the rim and pull down big rebounds. If the Bulls don't have Deng for a third consecutive game it hurts, but Butler is slowly making that pain a bit more tolerable.

3. Noah's night? - If there is a team to get Joakim Noah back on track it's the Pistons. The center opened up the floodgates on Detroit in their first meeting, setting career highs in points with 30 and rebounds with 22. Noah attacked the boards well against the Lakers on Monday night, after an awful game against Memphis over the weekend, but he needs a breakout game offensively. The Pistons offer up a perfect opportunity for that.

97036050_display_image.jpgTom Thibodeau never likes to show his hand.
Never.
But before Monday night's game with the Lakers, it was time for the Bulls head coach to show his ace. Well, at least start allowing his ace to get beat up a little bit in practice.
With just two away games in the next 10 days and a lot of control of the practice schedule in that time, Thibodeau acknowledged that is was time for star Derrick Rose to take the final step in the rehab from May surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and go all out in practices, full contact and all.
"Very close, very close, that's the next step,'' Thibodeau said.
When asked if "very close'' could mean this week, he responded, "Yeah ... it could.''
When then asked if it was scheduled to take place this week, he again said, "It could.''
That's as far as Thibodeau would go with it, but considering the heavy road schedule that the Bulls have to endure the first two weeks of February, it only makes sense to let Rose go all out in the comforts of the Berto Center with the organization able to have as many eyes as possible watching him closely.
"He has to go through [full contact practices] for an extended amount of time,'' Thibodeau said. "It's not going to be, OK one or two days of contact and he's going to be out there. That's not going to happen. Be patient, everyone has to be patient.
"He's doing his part, he's showing great patience, everyone else has to. He's got to focus on the rehab, our guys have to focus on improvement, and then when he's ready, whenever that is, that's when comes back. Not earlier than when he's ready, not later, and our doctors have been on top of it from Day 1. Everyone has to show patience.''
Thibodeau was asked if he's been able to show patience, especially with a disappointing 11-11 record before hosting the Lakers, and numerous losses this season where the Bulls looked to be just a superstar away in the fourth quarter.
"I like our team,'' Thibodeau insisted. "You guys [the media], I guess you guys don't believe me, but I believe we have more than enough. If we do the right things I think we're capable of beating anybody anywhere.
"We have to continue to do that, and I still think we have a lot of room for growth. We went through a half a season last year without Derrick, but the big thing is like I've said is you begin with the end in mind, and for us we want to be playing great basketball at the end of the season and we want to be as healthy as possible. For Derrick, keep handling the rehab, listen to what our doctors have to say, and then we go from there.''
Not only were the Bulls one star down in the game with Los Angeles, but actually two, as Luol Deng was still sidelined with a strained right hamstring, missing his second consecutive game. Deng was unable to participate in the morning shootaround, so it was not a surprise that Jimmy Butler started in his place.

Joakim+Noah+It's+Personal.jpgAfter being benched for the final 22:53 in the loss to Memphis on Saturday night, and then a quick disappearance from the locker room after, it would seem that center Joakim Noah had some talking to do with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau on Monday, just to clear the air.
Or at least hug it out.
Not in the world of Thibs.
"No, he understands,'' Thibodeau responded after the morning shootaround when asked if he and Noah talked about it. "The thing is he's been around, and the team has to come first, that's the most important thing. Sometimes that happens, not a big deal.''
According to Thibodeau, the first unit was flat, so he made the decision to ride out the crunch-time minutes with Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson, leaving starters Kirk Hinrch, Rip Hamilton and of course Noah on the bench.
"Yeah, just a coach's decision,'' Thibodeau explained. "We were struggling, we were behind, the group that got in there got us back in there, and it was more of the way that unit was rolling. I just felt we were so flat, that group was either going to win the game or lose the game for us. They were the ones that overcame a big deficit, and that's usually the case.
"In the first half I always go back with the starters, in the second half, if we're struggling, it's going to be the group that's going well. That's the way it is.''
Noah did not meet with the media after the shootaround, but Gibson did and didn't see any lingering carryover with his coach or teammate.
"He wasn't edgy at all,'' Gibson said of Noah. "We had a great walk-through this morning, we were talking, laughing like we always do, running the plays, Thibs was calling out plays. I thought it was a great walk-through for him and our team.
"[Disagreements] happen all year long, but we're like a family here. We've been together for three years, going on four, so guys just put that in the back of their head. We understand that we have one goal, and the one goal is to win games and challenge for a championship.
"It's a long season, things are going to happen, heads are going to get butted, but we all love each other and know what's best for the team. We're men, and one thing about men is you just got to let stuff go. We don't hold grudges. We let stuff go and get ready for the next game.''

Here's how the Bulls need to get ready for Lakers:

1. Kick 'em while they're down - This is not your father's Lakers, or even you big brother's Lakers. This is a team that comes into the United Center losers of two-straight, just 5-13 on the road, and searching for answers. When the spotlight comes on in crunch-time they have withered. They can score with anyone, evident by the 103.1 points per game [5th in the NBA], but have trouble defending Jayvee teams, allowing 101.6 per game [26th overall]. The Bulls have to keep the foot on the throats.

2. Game-time decision - Luol Deng and his injured right hamstring are a "game-time decision,'' according to Thibodeau, but the fact that he didn't participate in the walkthrough was not a good sign. Without Deng, that means that Noah must show up tonight, and they must continue to ride out Carlos Boozer's hot hand. It might also be time to dust off Nazr Mohammed, who could be in for some big minutes tonight to counter the size the Lakers have up front.

3. Kobe factor - Kobe Bryant is going to get his, and that's fine. It's about making sure that Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol don't. If the Bulls can contain those two, Bryant has shown that his days of carrying an entire team on his back are over. And watch out for Metta World Peace - he's always a wildcard that can flip a game around.

chicago-bulls-derrick-rose-goes-in-for-a-dunk.jpgBOSTON - There Derrick Rose was again on Friday, in practice gear, nailing long-range jumpers in the morning shootaround with the accuracy of a marksman, with no signs of a player that underwent May surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
A 6-foot-3 tease.
Still not taking full contact in practice, still no exact timetable for a return.
The real story, however? A Bulls team that is 22-15 without him, sitting in the fourth spot of the Eastern Conference 37 games into the season, with a chance to collect win No. 23 tonight against the Celtics.
"The big thing for us is you could never replace Derrick individually, and we understood that from the start,'' head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "So for us it was to do it collectively. Everyone would have to step up, do their job and put a lot into it, and that's our only chance. For the most part we've done that. Hopefully we'll be playing our best basketball down the stretch at the end of the season, and then at some point Derrick will join us, but you can't replace a guy like Derrick individually.''
Sorry Kirk Hinrich.
But if there is a time for Rose to start full practices, contact and all, it could be this week, with the Bulls back home to play four-straight at the United Center.
First things first - Three keys to getting past the underachieving Celtics:

1. Fixing the hammy - Luol Deng and his tweaked hamstring were ruled a game-time decision by Thibodeau, but everyone is a game-time decision in the world of Thibs. Deng received treatment on Thursday, and sounded confident that he would go.
"It's OK, it's a little tight,'' Deng said. "Didn't do anything at all [Thursday], just icing and stretching as much as I can. I should be fine. I think I'm going to play.''

2. Stopping Rondo - The Bulls have faced the Celtics twice so far this season, and still have no answer for Rondo at the point. In the first meeting back in November, Rondo messed around and nearly had a triple-double, falling one rebound short and scoring 20 in the Boston win. In the December rematch, it was 26 points for Rondo in the Boston loss. Hinrich will have the first shot, but don't be surprised if rookie Marquis Teague gets some minutes, just because of his speed to match Rondo.

3. Ground and pound - This is a Celtics lineup that made the change to go small last season, and can now be pounded inside and on the boards. That's basically the strength of the Bulls, especially with how well Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Deng have played up front lately, especially Boozer.

hotsauce.jpgTom Thibodeau promised after the Phoenix loss that some changes had to be made, especially for a Bulls team that was a very average 10-10 at home. The starting lineup is expected to be the same against Atlanta tonight, the bench rotation will be the same, heck, even the shootaround time was the same.
So changes?
"What we've got to change is our approach, how we go about doing our jobs,'' the Bulls head coach insisted on Monday afternoon. "Everyone has to get their job done, that's the most important thing. You can't say, well the starting group, it's their fault or the bench, it's their fault. It's the teams' fault right now, it's everybody. We have to correct it, that's what we have to do.
"I'm concerned we're making some of the same mistakes that we made earlier in the year, and so I want the focus back on our improvement, day-by-day. I want us to understand how we win, and understand the commitment necessary to win.''

Here are the three keys to the Atlanta game, as they welcome "Hot Sauce'' Kyle Korver back after he spent the last two seasons with the Bulls:

1. Stop Korver - Atlanta's bigs feed off the fact that they have more space to operate now that Kyle Korver is on the perimeter taking up attention. He was a long-range sniper that was able to spread the floor with the Bulls, and now he's offering up the same services for the Hawks, sent there in a trade to move salary in the offseason.
In the first meeting back on Dec. 22, Korver was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, scoring 13 points, but center Al Horford put up 20, while Josh Smith added 12. The Bulls have been inconsistent on closing out on three-point shooters this season, and they can't blink against Korver.

2. Protect the house - Everyone was healthy and participated in the shootaround, and now Thibodeau wants everyone ready to focus in on the game. There are no magic wands to change the 10-10 home record, accept getting back to the lunch-pail team that Thibodeau wants them to be.
"Obviously we're disappointed with it, but I don't want us to change how we have to approach each and every day,'' Thibodeau said. "You can't get caught looking backwards and not focusing in on what's in front of you now, which is improvement, being ready to play, and understanding how you win. So that's where I want our focus to be, on making the necessary steps on to improve so we can be successful.''

3. Booze cruise - In the 92-75 loss to the Hawks last month, Carlos Boozer scored just eight points and was basically a no-show. The Bulls have been searching him out early in games so far this month and he's been huge for them. Keep that formula going, especially against a smaller lineup like the Hawks throw out there.

aksdljfjasd.jpgNEW YORK - Off the court, Derrick Rose is still traveling with the team, just likely not sitting on the Bulls bench. And Kirk Hinrich is still a game-time decision with a right elbow injury.
As Joakim Noah pointed out, however, it's all eyes on the court tonight, when Round 3 between the Knicks and Bulls takes center stage at the Garden.
The last time the two squared off? It resembled a pick-up game at Rucker Park, with nine technicals handed out and four ejections. Two of those ejections included Noah and New York's Tyson Chandler, after they were "tangled up'' in a rebound, with both players sneaking in attempted head-butts as they went nose-to-nose.
The Bulls are 2-0 against the Knicks this season, and with Noah returning to his hometown, there's a reason he was so hyped for the game.
"They definitely aren't going to forget that, and they will be ready for the game,'' Noah said. "But we will too. It's definitely going to be an exciting game, being able to play at home like that in front of my family, in front of my friends, and in a hostile environment like that, what more can you ask for?''

Three keys in escaping New York:

1. Play with emotion - So far this season, the Knicks have looked deep on talent, shallow in heart. The Bulls got in their heads in the December win in New York, and everyone saw Kevin Garnett get into the head of Knicks star Carmelo Anthony last week. There's a formula in beating the Knicks, and it's occupying that space between their ears.

2. Elbowroom - The Bulls need Hinrich to play. The right elbow was feeling better on Friday, but he was still a game-time decision, in danger of missing his sixth game of the season. The Bulls are 2-3 with Nate Robinson starting, with the problem being the defense they lose when Hinrich is on the bench. Robinson is a great spark off the bench with an ability to score in bunches, but against the Knicks you need ball distribution on offense and lock-down defense on the other side of the court.

3. Pass the rock - It's Basketball 101: Make the extra pass. That's the way of life in the NBA, especially on team's void of a real superstar - or in the case of the Bulls, having an injured superstar waiting to come off the rehab shelf. When the Bulls get caught up in the one-on-ones like they did against Milwaukee in the second half of Wednesday's loss, it's Murder She Wrote. This is a team incapable of that kind of basketball. At least until the No. 1 returns.

hi-res-141237890_crop_650x440.jpg"Predictable contact'' in practice for Derrick Rose is basically the equivalent of an NFL quarterback wearing the red jersey in practice - it's more look, but don't touch.
Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler discussed Rose's presence in practice this week, with the MVP point guard continuing to take steps in his return from a surgically-repaired torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"We definitely don't want to get him hurt again, so if he's like going to the cup, let him go,'' Butler said, following the Wednesday afternoon shootaround. "Open J, contest it, but don't let him come down any wrong way. Playing smart basketball at the same time. That goes for anybody - don't undercut anybody, you know. Things that basketball players know to do with their teammates. As far as he's concerned, he continues to go hard, that's for sure.''
Butler admitted to being amazed at the fact that Rose is just back on the court after a May surgery, let alone seeing small signs that the explosiveness is coming back.
"Yeah, I mean everything,'' Butler said. "It's just great to see him out there jumping and shooting jumpshots, moving the way he does. I mean who knows, if he comes back and has a start like [Vikings running back] Adrian Peterson did. Man, that's crazy.''
One good sign? The fact that Rose has enough explosiveness in the knee to start dunking again.
"I see a few flushed here and there, nothing over the top,'' Butler said. "He still has it in him, that's for sure.''
The next step for Rose will be all-out contact in a full practice, and he's getting closer to that part of the rehab.
"You can tell, but he's a great player, a great leader, so he doesn't really show too often, but you know that he wants to be out there with us, be out there competing, helping us get these wins,'' Butler added. "You ask him about it and he's like, 'Man, I'm so ready.' But who knows.''
What the Bulls do know is they blew a 27-point, third-quarter lead to Milwaukee last time they played, and there can't be a repeat performance of that tonight at the United Center.

Three keys to tonight's game with the Bucks:

1. Nate Dogg! - According to head coach Tom Thibodeau, Kirk Hinrich did not workout with the team for a second-consecutive day on Wednesday, so despite being called a "game-time decision'' by Thibodeau, could be out. That means Nate Robinson has to guide the offense. Considering the roll the Bulls bigs have been on, it will be up to Robinson to feed them early and often, and keep that roll going.

2. Let it Rip - In both previous games against Milwaukee this season, the formula was simple against their smaller backcourt: Post-up Richard Hamilton. Expect the same game-plan tonight, until the Bucks can show they can stop it.

3. Remember the 27 - The Bulls players admittedly have a bitter taste in their mouths from the November home loss to the Bucks, especially after blowing a 27-point lead. Thibodeau didn't have to remind them of that loss.
"I think we all remember it,'' guard/forward Jimmy Butler said. "He doesn't have to remind us. We know what we did wrong that game, so we know what we have to do when we go out there tonight. We all talk about it, not letting it happen, and it definitely happened that game, so we know how to prevent it.''

forman_120613.jpgIt would make life easier on Gar Forman if he knew the exact date that the No. 1 would be back on the court. It would definitely lighten the load on the amount of questions the Bulls general manager has had to answer about Derrick Rose.
And while Forman admitted on Monday that there is a plan for "The Return,'' it's a plan written in pencil rather than pen.
Surgically-repaired anterior cruciate ligaments obviously don't care much about making schedule deadlines.
"There is no end game in sight,'' Forman responded, when asked about the All-Star Game as being the date frequently thrown out there for a Rose return. "The next step was to get him on the floor where he's participating in practice and contact activities. So we're not skipping steps. Once we feel comfortable with that and our doctors feel comfortable, then we'll go to the next step. It's not about us being evasive with our answers.
"Everything has been planned out, in detail. That's why we're taking this step-by-step and not skipping steps. There's a process in place and we've never wanted to jump ahead.''
Rose had the surgery last May, and the MVP point guard started participating in light practice a few weeks ago. He made his first road trip with the team last week, and seems full-contact practice seems to be just on the horizon.
But this is all about erring on the side of caution with the face of the franchise for years to come. It's not about what's best for the Bulls today, as much as what's best for them and Rose for years to come. If that means slip-ups like their last home game in which they lost to Charlotte, so be it.
"We want to do what's right for Derrick, we want to do what's right for our team,'' Forman added. "The goal all along is to do that. To take the process step-by-step, to not skip steps, and when he's 100 percent ready to play, he'll play.''

bron-dunk29_1314513c.jpgMIAMI - Not a rivalry?
Chris Bosh didn't even let a media member finish a question about Bulls center Joakim Noah on Friday afternoon, before interrupting.
Asked about Noah being "a guy you will have to deal with all night,'' the Miami big man quickly shot back, "Yeah, he'll have to deal with us.''
"They all play a certain type of way, they play physical basketball,'' Bosh explained of the showdown with the Bulls. "We pride ourselves on being able to play a bunch of different styles.
"They present a unique challenge. They play a lot of good team ball, they have a very unique defense where they really try and slow the game down, so we just have to make sure we play our game. Usually the team that plays their game and is in their comfort zone is the aggressor, and we want to play our style of basketball.''
Something the 22-8 Heat haven't had much problem doing this season.
As for the Bulls, they are glad just to have Noah back, with the veteran sidelined the last three days with flu-like symptoms.
Noah actually arrived to the arena early Friday morning to get some extra work, and while head coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn't declare him 100 percent to start, Noah insisted that he would be back in there against Miami.
"Always. Always big to play here. It's going to fun,'' Noah said.
Asked if he considered the Heat a rival, considering Noah once labeled the group "Hollywood as hell,'' after they knocked the Bulls out of the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, some wounds still haven't healed.
"No, I don't think it's just another team in the East,'' Noah said. "They're very good, we want to compete against the best, and it's always a battle. It's going to be exciting.''

Three keys to enduring the Heat:

1. Slow them down - There aren't many teams the Derrick Rose-less Bulls can run with these days, and they definitely can't run with Miami. No way, no how, not in any arena. The Bulls have to make it a slow game, and make sure they rebound well so that Miami can't get their transition game going.
"Rebounding, defense, try to get them the least amount of opportunities in transition because when they start playing that fast tempo, transition game, they're pretty much unstoppable,'' Noah said. "So it's up to us to try and slow them down as much as possible.''

2. Sweep the knee - LeBron James said that he will likely play against the Bulls, despite a sore knee keeping him out of practice on Thursday. The King didn't sound like the knee was 100 percent, however, which means the Bulls need to play him physical. Turn James into an outside shooter who is tentative in attacking the rim.

3. Calling Taj - Carlos Boozer is not a good matchup against Miami, especially with the Heat going small. If Boozer is ineffective early, Thibodeau needs to get Taj Gibson in there quickly and lean on him for heavy minutes. Gibson can guard three positions, and against the smaller Bosh he can match-up in the middle with no problem.

outbreak2.jpgORLANDO - Time to dust off Nazr Mohammed. All 35 years of him. The way Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was sounding on Wednesday morning, Joakim Noah's flu-like symptoms are beating the starting center up enough where he could miss tonight's game against the Magic.
That means Taj Gibson would be the starter in the middle, and Mohammed would be the first big man off the bench for the Bulls in the rotation.
Not such a bad thing, considering how well Mohammed played in extended minutes in the preseason.
What Thibodeau is hoping is the same bug that kept Noah out of Tuesday's practice and then the Wednesday shootaround, isn't spreading. Vladimir Radmanovic was feeling it Wednesday morning, also making him a game-time decision. The last thing the Bulls need right now is "Outbreak II'' to happen.

Here are the three keys for tonight's game with the Magic:

1. Captain Kirk - In the world of Thibs, the Bulls are a better team when Kirk Hinrich is healthy and starting. Hinrich, who has been working through a bone bruise in his left knee, went through the Wednesday shootaround, and was feeling optimistic that he would be able to start against Orlando after he missed the Monday loss to Charlotte. The Bulls are 2-2 without Hinrich starting this year, and Thibodeau is the veteran guard's biggest fan.
"You look at his plus/minus and how the team functions when he's on the floor, it's both,'' Thibodeau replied, when asked if Hinrich helped the team more offensively or defensively. "That's what a point guard has to do, run the team. He's played well all season, and he understands how to run a team. Look at the shot distribution when he's on the floor, the right guys get the right shots and that's a big part of it.''

2. The Derrick factor - The idea that the Bulls will now somehow be more inspired because Derrick Rose is traveling with them is ludicrous. Yes, Rose is on his first road trip with the team, but the only way Rose helps the Bulls is when he's on the court playing.
Thibodeau again expressed patience on Wednesday from the outside world.
"It's when he's ready,'' Thibodeau said of the MVP's return. "It's not going to be sooner, later, this is the target date - it's when he's ready. He's doing the predictable contact in practice, the next step is [full] practice, and then he'll have to show that he can go through full practices for awhile. If everything goes well, then he plays.''

3. The big O - Don't sleep on the Magic. They took the Heat into overtime on Monday, and watched Nikola Vucevic pull down 29 rebounds, as well as score 20 points. Hedo Turkoglu is getting healthy, while J.J. Redick gives them a three-point presence off the bench. The Bulls have been sleep-walking since New York two weeks ago, and need to wake up quickly.

DR12412.jpgThe team charter from Chicago to Orlando on Tuesday afternoon was about 190 pounds heavier than what it's been this season.
And no, Derrick Rose didn't even have to play stowaway to get on that flight.
Call it very welcomed weight.
For the first time since blowing out the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first round of the playoffs last season, Rose traveled with his team for the two-game road trip in Orlando and Miami. Now before Bulls fans run out and start buying tickets to home games in January, the announcement came with a warning from head coach Tom Thibodeau: "Everyone has to be patient.''
Thibodeau said that this had been planned for quite some time, and Rose's presence with the team didn't change the fact that a return in mid- to late-February was still a reality.
What he would indicate is that Rose is closer to being a participant in full practices - contact and all - rather than just specific non-contact drills like he had bee participating in the past few weeks.
"You have a general plan, it could be altered depending on how things are going, but this is what we planned all along,'' Thibodeau said. "There's really no change. He's doing more basketball stuff now and less of the weight training and the rehab stuff, where the focus was on doing that more. He's still doing that but he's added now the basketball component. He's doing both.''
Asked about the full practices in the next few weeks, Thibodeau said, "We'll see. He's making good steady progress and that's what we want. It's the type of injury that we knew would take time, so we want everyone to be patient and let him work through it.''
Being patient hasn't been a problem for Thibodeau, who has been very stoic when it's come to all things Rose this season. His lack of enthusiasm, at least publicly, has also rubbed off on his players.
"It's definitely tempered, and obviously everybody is going to be excited when he comes back,'' guard Kirk Hinrich said. "At the same time, it's about his well-being and making sure he's ready to go. Nobody wants to rush him back. He had a serious injury, he's one of the best players in the world, and you can't rush him back.''
And just because he's on the flight doesn't mean that Rose is ready to be on the bench with his teammates. Because of his rehab schedule, there's a good chance he will watch the games from the locker room for the time being.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since Rose has been seeing the game from a completely different perspective since the injury.
"That's Derrick's nature, that's who Derrick is, he's always learning,'' Thibodeau said. "So he's always adding to what he already does well.
"There are things he sees out there that we talk about. He's a student of the game, he sees what's going on not only with our team but around the league, so he likes to talk the game. And that's why he's so good.''
While Thibodeau did offer up a bit more detail on the next few weeks, any talk about a definite return to game action is met with vague responses.
"Whether it's after the All-Star Break, two weeks after, it's when he's ready,'' Thibodeau said. "We don't want to put a date on it. I think it's just going step-by-step. When he makes it through some practices for an extended amount of time, there's not any soreness the next day, we'll make a decision then, but he's still got a long way to go.''

NOTES: Joakim Noah missed the Tuesday practice with flu-like symptoms, but was expected to travel with the team and be evaluated at the Wednesday shootaround in Orlando. ... Hinrich did not practice because of the bone bruise in his left knee, but was hoping to play against the Magic after missing Monday's game.

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