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Derrick Rose’s Impending Return Gives Bulls a Chance in Eastern Conference

Derrick Rose has missed 225 regular-season games (and counting) since the 2011-12 season. It has been nothing but heartbreak and agony for Rose, with one knee injury after another followed by valiant efforts at a return.

The Chicago Bulls announced on February 27 that Rose underwent successful knee surgery and should be back in four-to-six weeks. Since then, the Bulls have gone 9-8 and currently hold the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, 1½ games ahead of the Toronto Raptors.

Things were ugly for the Bulls when Rose first went down, and it was made even worse when Jimmy Butler got hurt as well. In their first eight games without Rose, Chicago failed to score 100 points in six of them. It was the type of offensive funk that Chicago has been known for without Rose, and something that has held them back from being a championship contender.

But since that rough patch, Chicago has found its offensive stride, scoring at least 100 points in six games out of nine. Pau Gasol has been the same Pau Gasol as he has been throughout the regular season, grabbing double-doubles at a frequent rate, but it has been the superstar-like emergence of rookie Nikola Mirotic that has been the catalyst for this positive streak. Mirotic is averaging 20.8 points and 7.6 rebounds on 44.1 percent shooting in the month of March, and some might say he’s making a late charge for Rookie of the Year.

Chicago’s pieces are finally coming together, and if Mirotic can manage to continue his impressive run, they’ll be that much more dangerous when Rose returns. Rose is two weeks away from reaching the six-week timetable set by doctors, and positive news has surfaced as Rose has returned to practice, albeit under some restrictions.

Rose has yet to be cleared for contact, but Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said it should happen soon (via CBS Chicago):

“Most likely, it will be next week, but I don’t want to jump ahead,” Thibodeau said.

The NBA Playoffs are set to begin on April 18, which is three weeks away. Rose’s potential return should have Chicago fans salivating, because even though the team is coming together without him, the Bulls still need him for a championship run. Sure, Butler and Gasol have been the leaders of this team, earning All-Star selections and averaging 20.2 and 18.6 points, respectively. Gasol has earned MVP whispers and Butler is making his case for Most Improved Player.

But again, Rose is still needed for a title run, and his return would put the rest of the NBA on notice.

Earlier in the year, Rose showed flashes of returning to form, although he was inconsistent and his scoring was slightly under his career average. However, he had several big performances, with numerous big games against quality opponents.

Now, nobody knows how Rose will be this time around after a third knee surgery. But it’s certainly an upgrade to what the Bulls have now. No disrespect to Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich as they’ve filled in admirably for Rose in his absence, but we’re talking about a former MVP of the league. If Rose returns and plays at a high level, Chicago will have a chance in the Eastern Conference.

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