While Derrick Rose would have loved to play against Cleveland Cavaliers rookie guard Kyrie Irving, the Chicago Bulls point guard will miss his third consecutive game on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Rose told reporters Friday morning that he would attempt to warm up before the game in hopes of a positive response from his sore left big toe -- a process the 6-foot-3 point guard has gone through prior to four of the last six games without receiving the results he had wanted.
After Rose aggravated his turf toe in last Tuesday's contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he missed a Jan. 11 78-64 home win over the Washington Wizards as the Bulls signed veteran guard Mike James. He returned two days later for last week's back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday against the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, respectively. He posted 18 points and 11 assists versus the Raptors and declared that his injury is in the past. But he tweaked his toe and was a scratch before Monday's road game versus the Memphis Grizzlies. In his absence, the Bulls were routed 102-86 and committed 19 turnovers, which the Grizzlies scored 26 points off of.
Typically not one to reminisce about injury issues, Rose, who is averaging 20.9 points and 8.7 assists this season, has "a little regret" for playing against the Celtics and Raptors. He even admitted his toe is worse than it was when he initially injured it in his second season.
"I definitely want to be out there to play, especially today, but [I've] got to make the smartest decision. Not only for me but for my teammates," Rose told the assembled media on Friday morning.
The guess here is that Rose most likely sits out Saturday as well. It would have been a shock to most if he suited up against the Cavs. One of the traits that make the fourth-year veteran so special is his desire to play alongside his teammates night in and night out, his durability. Fortunately for the Bulls, Rose sounded like he realizes that, yes, it's acceptable to ease off the gas pedal because of pain.
"Knowing that right when it starts feeling good, it could go right back to zero," he said. "So I definitely want to be out there playing, but I've got to make the smart decision."
There's no question that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wants his star back on the court as soon as possible but he and the rest of the team understand Rose is needed for the long haul. As expected, Rose sat out the Bulls' Tuesday night's 118-97 rout of the Phoenix Suns. Given how well the team played minus its best player in that game, Thibodeau's bunch should be able to defeat the Cavs and Charlotte Bobcats, their opponent Saturday at the United Center -- with or without Rose.
The Bulls have repeatedly shown a lot of confidence in C.J. Watson and John Lucas III. Both players have proven they can fill the void at point guard when needed. In two contests since returning from a nine-game absence, Watson has scored a combined 40 points, 23 of which on 8-for-12 shooting on Tuesday. Lucas is averaging 7.3 points on about 36 percent shooting from three-point range.
In Rose's place, Watson will make his third start of the campaign on Friday, with Lucas backing him up.
"He's played great," Thibodeau told reporters Thursday of Watson. "He's always ready to play. He's shown that whenever he's gotten extended minutes he's always played well. He does whatever it takes to win."
Most impressively, Watson himself is playing through pain. He's not completely over the dislocated left elbow he suffered New Year's Day against the Grizzlies. He did not require surgery and came back earlier than expected. Over the past few days, though, Watson has revealed it will take a month, or longer, to regain full health in his elbow. In the meantime, he will continue to sport a black, heavily padded sleeve on his left arm and display the type of aggression his coach demands out of the point guard position.
"[Rose] hasn't been here for a couple games, so just got to keep the ship steady until he gets back," he said. "Thibs just told me to go out there and be aggressive, attack at all times and just play constant defense."
Although Rose is out, Rip Hamilton participated fully in Thursday's practice, just the squad's second since Christmas Day, and will play his eighth game of the season on Friday. The veteran shooting guard's teammates and coaches raved about his 11-point, six-assist performance against the Suns, and rightfully so.
Hamilton played exactly the way he had before suffering a left groin injury that made him miss 10 of the last 11 contests. He started strong, scoring six points and dishing out five assists in the first quarter, and used his speed to help the Bulls get out in transition early and often. The Suns extended the bait of running up and down the floor all night in Chicago -- and the Bulls took and excelled in it.
"It's a big difference when we have him out there because he presents another option offensively," forward Carlos Boozer, who scored a game- and season-high 31 points, told reporters after the game. "And with his experience, he makes the right play. If he's open, he shoots it. If he's doubled, he makes the right pass to the guy that's open. And the other team's defensive scheme is to make him not get his shots, so it gives other guys open shots. It makes our offense a lot crisper.
"He runs crazy, crazy fast. And he does a good job of getting to the corner, or running through, opening up lanes. It gives everybody more opportunities on offense."
Added Thibodeau: "Rip really was terrific. Not so much with his shooting as much as his playmaking to start the game. I think just having Rip, it gives you another primary option that you can get to. I think it gives your offense a good rhythm.
"He runs the floor really hard. And the thing about Rip is he knows how to find shots. He just has a great instinct to find an open area. He moves great without the ball. So it gave us a good rhythm."
With arguably the NBA's deepest team, the Bulls seem poised to take advantage of the easy stretch in their schedule and keep Rose sidelined in street clothes until he's 100 percent healthy. In many ways, it's a no-brainer for the title-contending Bulls, who are a league-best 13-3.
"We need Pooh to be 100 percent," Bulls center Joakim Noah stated Thursday. "Of course, you want your MVP out there on the court. But we understand the big picture, and it's a long season. Of course he wants to be out there on the court, but you've just got to be careful."