The Chicago Bulls clinched a playoff berth after dropping the Charlotte Hornets 98-86 Monday night, and could have former All-Star point guard Derrick Rose back for a final push atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Rose, who underwent surgery to repair a tear in the medial meniscus in his right knee on Feb. 27, could make a return to practice this week, according to CSN Chicago. The third comeback from knee surgery appears to be right on schedule from the initial projection of four to six weeks of rehabilitation.
“Yup. Everything’s going as (planned),” said head coach Tom Thibodeau, via CSN. “He still has a ways to go, but he’s doing well overall.”
Thibodeau was also careful with his words when asked about when Rose will return to full practices.
“I don’t know. That’s the next step,” Thibodeau said. “It appears he’s pretty close to that.”
Rose is one of nine Bulls players to miss action due to injury this season, but the 43-29 team were as high as No. 2 in the East, and despite a recent slip to fourth, sit only three games back of the second-place Cleveland Cavaliers.
Forward Taj Gibson told SI.com that Rose figures to be a major contributor when the postseason starts next month.
“When playoff time comes, I already know he is going to turn it up another notch,” Gibson said. “When we play these big time games, he is just explosive to the basket, he is going all out. Seeing him in practice he is pushing himself, I’m sitting on the bench with him tonight, he is like I can’t wait to get back.”
Rose has missed 36 games due to ankle, hamstring and the latest knee injury, but during stretches of the season he has showcased the type of ferocity and scoring ability that previously made him one of the NBA's best perimeter players. On Feb. 12, Rose notched 30 points and seven assists in a 113-98 victory over the Cavs, and before that dropped 30 points and snagged seven rebounds in the 113-111 victory over the West-leading Golden State Warriors on Jan. 27.
For the season, Rose has averaged 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and five assists over 31 minutes in 46 games.
Considering the team’s overall injury woes, it’s a small wonder Chicago hasn’t struggled to work players back into the rotation this season. It’s also received a late push from forward Nikola Mirotic at a critical juncture of the season.
Chicago welcomed leading scorer Jimmy Butler back against Charlotte after a left elbow strain kept him out 11 games, and the swingman chipped in 19 points and nine rebounds to help the Bulls win their third game in a four-game stretch. Butler suddenly became the heart of the Bulls offense this season, averaging 20.2 points, six rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the first All-Star nod in his four-year career.
The rookie Mirotic has ripped off the best month of his season with 21 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in March, acting as perhaps a perfect complement to big man Pau Gasol down low. Mirotic has in some ways taken over Rose and Butler’s roles of attacking the basket as well. The Montenegrin star averaged nearly eight trips to the free throw line per game and knocking down 83.2 percent of his attempts.