9:00 AM CDT, October 29, 2013
Derrick Rose is coming back to play his first real game in 18 months.
But he is not bringing another superstar with him. Drive home safely, Chicago.
Rose has looked terrific in exhibition games, attacking the basket as fearlessly as we remember and doing it while looking stronger.
What’s more, Rose has looked like a better shooter. He is smooth and confident from distance. His game is just as dangerous outside as it is inside.
But sorry, that doesn’t count as a second superstar or even just a star. Rose might be able to kill a team from the arc as he does at the hoop, but he’s still only one star, and that leaves the Bulls one star short of legitimizing talk they can overtake the Heat and win a title.
This is not to say Rose’s return won’t be exciting Tuesday night. Of course it will. We’ve waited 18 months to see him play and more than a half-year for him finally to follow doctors’ orders in continuing his rehab by playing in games like this.
Rose will be jacked up for opening night in Miami and might drop 30 or 40 on the Heat, and it would be spectacular, and idiots will declare there’s a new sheriff in the conference.
Don’t be that person. Don’t confuse a garden-variety game in October with meaningful possession after meaningful possession in May. Don’t blur a regular-season tipoff with the apocalypse that is the playoffs.
As long as LeBron James is healthy and Dwyane Wade can make his way to the court and Chris Bosh can spot up, the Heat are better than Rose’s Bulls. Rose is the extent of Bulls players who can create his own shot and take over a game when the court is smaller and the pace is slower.
The Bulls arrive in Miami for the season opener with their projected starting lineup healthy and ready to face the Heat, which is some accomplishment for a Tom Thibodeau team.
Joakim Noah is coming back from a groin injury and claimed he could’ve played in the final exhibition game against Denver on Friday. But he was held out by the coach. Sure, it was the right thing to do, but you don’t always get the right thing from Thibodeau when it comes to flesh and bones. Perhaps the Bulls coach who views every game as Armageddon has learned something.
Minutes are a big deal with Thibodeau’s Bulls. The coach looks like he will make sure that new starting two-guard Jimmy Butler plays more minutes than Luol Deng, and I still believe Thibodeau will play Deng the second-most minutes in the league.
Carlos Boozer won’t play much defense, and his offense will evaporate if he doesn’t get off early, and there’s your starting lineup, Bulls fans. Which one of those starters gets his own shot when Rose can’t?
I’ll hang up and listen for your silence.
The starters will play a lot of minutes, however, and that will exacerbate some Bulls problems. Minutes seem to be the divide between the coach and the front office. Of course, the front office could help the coach by supplying him with a better bench.
Kirk Hinrich is healthy for now, but that won’t last. He and Noah act like they get frequent flyer points for injuries. Taj Gibson is a strong defensive player and rebounder off the bench, but shouldn’t he be a better shooter by now to demand a starting spot? Mike Dunleavy is a pro who can shoot, and then there is the perennial Mike James thing and a couple rookies that the coach has no use for.
Did you see a legitimate backup center in that last paragraph? Me neither.
The Bulls haven’t had one since Omer Asik left, and that will cost them because Noah will get hurt. Noah always gets hurt. The Bulls always need a center. Nazr Muhammad isn’t that center. He can’t give the Bulls a lot of effective minutes and certainly nothing close to the relentless defense and rebounding that Noah provides.
I could be wrong, but this bench doesn’t look nearly as good as the one that helped the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals three seasons ago, so I can’t see how this team gets past a Heat team that has learned how to win when it matters.
The Bulls will trumpet a change to their offense as Rose returns. They want to run more this season, which will be both effective and entertaining --- and then disappear when it matters in the playoffs because the playoffs are like that unless the Heat do it.
People try to gin up scenarios in which a gutty, hard-working team plays thankless and relentless defense while following its little superstar past the evil empire that has won consecutive titles to live out a Hollywood ending.
Wise up, people. This is the NBA, not the Disney Channel. Talent wins. The most talent usually wins the most playoff games, and playoff games are the only things that matter. The Heat have more stars. Ballgame.
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