After having an MRI under the guidance of a specialist on Monday morning, Derrick Rose indeed learned that he has a muscular, not structural, back issue -- which allowed his Chicago Bulls coaches, teammates and fans to breathe a little easier. The Bulls' point guard will continue to rest and receive massages, among other treatments.
"The specialist looked at [Derrick's] back, he looked at the MRI, and there is nothing structurally wrong with his back," Bulls general manager Gar Forman told reporters on Monday afternoon. "It's a muscular problem. Obviously, he's been having back spasms.
"At this point, we'll continue with the therapy, we'll continue with rest, and it's really hard to tell when he'll respond and be ready to go. It could be [Tuesday], it could be longer. We're hopeful that it's not too long, that it really is a day-to-day situation. The good part is, structurally, there's nothing wrong with the back."
Rose has missed seven games this season, five of which in January because of a turf toe on his left big toe. He sat out the final two contests of the Bulls' season-long, nine-game road trip -- which the team finished 6-3 -- because of lower back spasms. The fourth-year NBA veteran admitted after Sunday afternoon's 95-91 loss to the Boston Celtics that the injury has bothered him since the start of the trip on Jan. 29 in Miami.
Rose is averaging 22 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds this season.
Fortunately for the Bulls, their franchise cornerstone's injury doesn't appear as serious as some Bulls fans may have feared, given the fact that Rose told the assembled media on Sunday that he "could barely walk" following last Wednesday night's 90-67 win over the New Orleans, in which he played just 22 minutes. Rose obviously wants to be back on the court as soon as he's able to and should be able to navigate through his lower back spasms. Luckily for everyone associated with the Bulls, he has avoided structural damage, which, depending on its severity, could have put his return this season in jeopardy, according to various professional opinions on the matter.
"When we hear the word muscle spasm, we think of an involuntary protective action of the muscle. It's really designed to prevent the athlete from incurring further injury, until you get to the root source of the problem," ESPN physical therapist Stephania Bell said Monday on SportsCenter. "That's what they're trying to uncover right now so they can treat it appropriately."
Rose, who is officially listed as day-to-day, will most likely be a game-time decision for Tuesday night's game against the Sacramento Kings -- at least that is how Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has termed his banged-up players over the course of the compressed, 66-game season.
The Bulls know they need Rose, the reigning league MVP, to be 100 percent healthy if the team is going to achieve its ultimate goal. The three-time All-Star could very well miss several more games, as the Bulls play 12 of their next 16 at the United Center, including a pair of six-game homestands sandwiched around three straight on the road.
With an Eastern Conference-leading 23-7 record, Chicago has no reason to rush Rose back into the lineup, and vice versa. He has already missed more games this season than he had in his previous three campaigns (six), and both parties now seem to be prepared to move forward with patience. But make no mistake: When Rose is feeling much better and believes he's set to produce at a high level, he will return to the court. The Bulls' coaching and medical staff clearly have a say in the matter, but, in the end, it comes down to how Rose is reacting to the treatment on a day-to-day basis.
Two weeks ago, Rose was voted by the fans to start in the Feb. 26, 2012, NBA All-Star Game. Even though he is nicked up, he is expected to play in the annual showcase. Rose played through a bruised right hip when he earned his first All-Star nod as a reserve in 2010.
If Rose misses his third game in a row Tuesday as expected, C.J. Watson, who poured in 22 points on 8-for-23 shooting against the Celtics, will make his fifth start of the season against the lowly Kings (10-17).
"The biggest thing is: He's had some pain the last several days and we need to try to get that under control with the therapy and the rest and hope he's back fairly soon," Forman said of Rose.
"Right now, obviously we feel that Derrick is injured so he hasn't been playing the last several games. But we're hopeful, again, with therapy that it'll respond fairly soon and he'll be able to go."
The Bulls' injury list has featured key players throughout the campaign. Rip Hamilton has missed 19 of the team's 30 games and remains out indefinitely and Rose and Luol Deng have sat out seven apiece. Carlos Boozer, who played just 59 games last season, is the only starter who has appeared in all 30. Thibodeau's bunch is confident they can win in the absence of critical pieces, but they know how important it is to be fully healthy toward the end of the season.
"Hopefully we can get past [the injuries]," Watson told me in a phone conversation last Thursday. "Hopefully when the playoffs come around, we're all healthy, we don't lose anyone, so we don't have any excuses and we can just try to make another run for a title."
Thibs' magic number: The Bulls and Heat will each play one more game through Wednesday -- the cut-off point for the coach (and his staff) of the team with the best record in each conference to roam the sideline on the All-Star bench.
Thibodeau would clinch the right to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team, which includes both Rose and Deng, on Tuesday with either a Bulls' win over the Kings or a Miami Heat (22-7) loss to the Indiana Pacers (17-10). The Heat had been 0-2 against the Milwaukee Bucks this season before winning on Monday night at the Bradley Center.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's Scott Brooks, whose squad is a league-best 21-6, has already earned the honor to coach the Western Conference All-Stars.