BOSTON - 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.