Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose

Rose, Bulls draw it up perfectly in D.C.

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
11:02
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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WASHINGTON -- This is the way things are supposed to work for the Chicago Bulls.

This is the way Gar Forman, John Paxson and Tom Thibodeau drew it up over the summer. Tuesday's 99-91 win over the Washington Wizards unfolded exactly how the Bulls' triumvirate envisioned. A deep Bulls' roster would build a lead heading into the fourth quarter against a quality opponent, and then Derrick Rose would shut things down late in the game.

Those visions have become realities for the Bulls over the past week, as they've put together one of the most impressive stretches in the past three years. Four wins in a row, the past three of which came against Memphis, Toronto and Washington -- teams that have a combined record of 62-22.

"It's real," Bulls center Joakim Noah said of the recent stretch. "Chicago Bulls are getting healthy. It's very real. We know that we're still not where we want to be. And we know the sky's the limit for our team. Our confidence is just getting better, and we're going to keep working, and we feel like we can even get better defensively. But it's all coming, and it's going to be a special year."

The frightening part for the rest of the league is, if the Bulls can somehow stay healthy and continue playing together, they are going to be even better a few months from now than they are right now. That's part of the reason the confidence Noah exudes right now is off the charts. The other reason is, for the second straight game, Rose put the Bulls on his back in the fourth quarter.

After scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth Monday night against the Raptors, Rose scored 10 of his 25 in the fourth Tuesday night against the Wizards. He's not all the way back to where he was before he tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012, but this recent stretch is as close as he has been.

"He's stringing the games together, and so that's important," Thibodeau said. "He had the two games when he was sick, and then he's picked up right where he left off. The good thing was him working through the back-to-backs. It's been a step-by-step process. This is really the first time he's played really well in a back-to-back. He's been playing and playing pretty good minutes in the back-to-backs, and he's felt good, but you could tell his confidence is growing. He's feeling a lot better, and that's great."

What's also great for Thibodeau is the depth he has to work with on a nightly basis. Noah called this Bulls squad the most talented offensive team he's been on since being in Chicago. That point is underscored by the fact that Jimmy Butler, who had a rare off-night on Tuesday and went just 4-for-13 from the field, still has developed to the point that he's opened up space on the floor for Rose.

"Even with me with a live dribble, I know it's dangerous," Rose said. "So to see the attention going somewhere else or going so many places now, it's kind of new for me. A lot of people want me to score 30 points in the first half, [but] I don't have to. I can pick and choose when I want to score or try to change the game. And that's all I'm trying to do with this team."

The former MVP says teams still aren't doubling him, in part because of all the other options the Bulls have on the floor. Between Butler's ability to get to the rim, Pau Gasol's ability to score down on the blocks, Aaron Brooks' ability to penetrate and create his own shot and Nikola Mirotic's long-range jumper, the Bulls are dramatically different than the team that lost to the Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season. Unlike in years past, Thibodeau's team has several weapons to go to on the floor when Rose isn't in rhythm, a credit to Forman and Paxson for creating a deeper roster in the offseason.

As usual with the Bulls, though, everything revolves around Rose. He's proving yet again that even after being out of the game for most of the past two years, he still has the rare ability to turn a game around -- or close one out -- by himself. He never doubted he would be able to do it again, despite all the fans and pundits who thought otherwise. He believes the Bulls are getting used to playing with one another again -- a fact proven in their recent play.

"Just having faith, man," Rose said of maintaining his confidence over the past two years. "I know how special I am as a player. I really feel like I was born to play this sport. I bring joy to people whenever I play. That's all I can say about it."

That's all he and the Bulls need to say right now. Their play is saying more than any other words could.

D-Rose's game giving confidence to Bulls

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
12:38
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose doesn't fully grasp the impact he has on others. The 26-year-old still isn't comfortable with all the attention his game draws. But after scoring 15 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls' impressive 129-120 comeback win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night, the former MVP better get used to the accolades again.

Rose, who missed the past two contests because of an illness, has had some nice games over the first month and a half of the season, but none looked quite like this one.

Rose looked like his old self -- the player who took over games consistently -- before tearing the ACL in his left knee in April 2012.

"They were giving me my shot," Rose said of his late-game decisions. "I guess they'll learn. I guess the league will learn."

As much as Rose tried to downplay his night, the boost it gave to his teammates was undeniable. As Rose repeatedly took the ball down the floor and knocked down several jumpers and runners toward the rim, he quietly played it off as if nothing major were happening. But his teammates felt much differently.

Each time Rose sank another jumper or made another play at the rim, the smile on Joakim Noah's face seemed to grow wider. Rose wasn't just making baskets on Monday, he was offering a reminder on how good he and the Bulls can be when they're all healthy.

"It's great," Noah said of watching Rose. "It's good to have him back on the court. Derrick's been through a lot the last couple of years with injuries and just to see him out there competing, he looks like he's having fun playing basketball. It's great. I'm happy. It makes me happy."

Rose's play ignited the sellout crowd and fired up Noah and the rest of his teammates in the process. The Bulls always knew they could be great this season, but that feeling was contingent upon Rose coming back and being close to the same player he used to be. Now that he has shown that swagger and killer instinct late in games again, the confidence within the Bulls' locker room is higher than it has been in years.

"We know that we can always count on him and go to him," Jimmy Butler said. "And that's just the type of guy he is, he wants that pressure, and he produces. He produced. I think we're just going back to him and I think he's going to do the same thing every night."

If he does, and he stays healthy, the Bulls are going to be a scary team once the playoffs roll around. In the meantime, Rose knows that he must continue improving and sharpening his game for when it matters the most. Monday was just one more step in a long process for the humble star.

"I'm fortunate to have the teammates that I have," Rose said. "They really believe in me and they see how hard I work. It's hard being on a team like that, but I'm fortunate, I'm grateful, and I don't take it for granted."

Neither do his teammates. Especially when they see him playing like he did Monday night.

Thibs expects Rose, Gibson to play Monday

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
12:15
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose (illness) and Taj Gibson (sprained right ankle), who both missed the team's past two games, went through all of Monday morning's shootaround and are expected to play Monday night against the Toronto Raptors. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is happy his starting lineup is on track to play together again, but he is also proud of the way the rest of the group has responded to all of the injuries that have piled up early in the season.

"You have to be ready for it," Thibodeau said. "It is unusual, but we have to deal with it. The important thing is just to get ready for the next game, whoever can play, just get out there and get the job done."

Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler believes he has played enough with Rose over the first part of the season that they'll know where the other will be on the floor. They didn't play much together in Butler's first three years in the league because of Rose's knee injuries and Butler's struggles to earn a place in Thibodeau's rotation during his first year and a half in Chicago. They have played in only 14 games together this season, as Rose has struggled with various injuries and Butler missed the first two games because of a thumb injury.

"I think we complement each other well in transition and getting out in the open floor," Butler said. "We'll get a lot of easy baskets together."

Butler comes into Monday's game having racked up 66 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and six steals in a combined 88 minutes over his past two games.

Melo, Rose questionable for Knicks-Bulls

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
12:57
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- Carmelo Anthony (left knee soreness) and Derrick Rose (illness) are both questionable for Thursday night's game between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls. Anthony, who said his knee started acting up again in Tuesday night's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, admitted he has people close to him trying to get him to shut things down for a few weeks.

"I have multiple people say kind of just shut it down," Anthony said before Thursday's shootaround. "Or just take time off. But at the end of the day, it's hard for me to just do that right now in the midst of what's happening with the team and this season. So just trying to be smart about that."

Anthony said he didn't do much during Wednesday's practice and wanted to warm up Thursday night before making a final decision.

"It gets frustrating," he said. "Not knowing what's going to happen kind of with your body. So for me it's just taking it as the days come."

Thursday's game marks the first time Anthony has been back at the United Center since spurning the Bulls in free agency over the summer. The All-Star small forward said it wasn't weird for him being back in the building he toured alongside Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and several other members of the organization.

"Not at all, man," Anthony said. "I came here this summer and visited. I had great meetings, but as far as being weird, it wasn't no connection like that for it to be weird. Not at all."

Anthony also noted that he wasn't concerned about being booed by Bulls fans.

"That's not something I'm thinking about right now or worried about," he said. "I got to worry about how I feel. So if I'm thinking about whether somebody's going to cheer for me or boo me, I can't do that right now. I can't worry about that."

Thibodeau isn't concerned about the reunion or what might have been had Anthony signed with the Bulls in the summer.

"I have great respect for what he's done," Thibodeau said. "He's a great talent, but he's a great person, too. I got to know him a little bit through USA [Basketball], coach [Jim] Boeheim. And the things that Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski and Coach Boeheim said about him told me that he would be a great fit for any team. When you look at his career, it speaks for itself. The numbers are incredible. [He] probably doesn't get the credit for being the passer that he is, playmaker. But that's what the people with USA Basketball said that's the role he played for that team. So [I have] great respect for him. Every player has to do what they feel is best for himself and his family, and I think that's what he did. I think he was totally honest with everybody."

If Anthony doesn't play, he will join Knicks big man Amar'e Stoudemire on the bench. The veteran power forward said he was sitting out Thursday's game to rest.

"A lot of games have been crunched into the early part of the season," Stoudemire said. "I've been called on to play a lot more than I was expected to, so it's a smart decision to rest and get ready for another brutal month."

Knicks swingman J.R. Smith did not travel with the team to Chicago as he continues getting treatment for a plantar fascia injury.

As for Rose, Thibodeau said he was not feeling well and did not go through shootaround. Rose has already missed eight games this season because of injury. Bulls forward Taj Gibson also did not participate in shootaround. He is questionable because of a right ankle injury. Bulls center Joakim Noah did go through shootaround and is expected to play after missing the last four games because of lingering ankle and knee problems.

Numbers point to more aggressive Rose

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
11:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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ATLANTA -- Derrick Rose missed 15 of the 21 shots he took in Monday night's 93-86 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He turned the ball over six times. He was 0-for-7 from the 3-point line and made several poor decisions with the ball in his 31 minutes, 30 seconds of play.

But as a tired Bulls squad got dressed and made its way on to the bus awaiting outside Phillips Arena, Rose and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believe Monday's game was a positive development.

That's because Monday marked Rose's 11th consecutive game on the floor. It also marked just the second time all season he has started and finished back-to-back games. After watching Rose struggle to stay healthy throughout the first month of the season, Thibodeau seems relieved Rose is able to continue playing.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty ImagesDerrick Rose struggled with his shot on Monday, but his play has picked up since being pulled from a game on Nov. 25.
"There's no negative," Thibodeau said. "There's no negative. The only way he's going to come back is by playing and working. That's it. Even if he were 100 percent, not every game is going to be perfect. And when it's not perfect, you got to try and do something else to help us win: play defense, move the ball, break the defense down.

"There's a lot of things to the game that he can do to help us. Overall, I think he's doing well. It's not going to be perfect."

While Monday's game illustrated one of those times when things weren't perfect for Rose, he came into the game playing some of his best basketball since before he tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012. Since being pulled from a Nov. 25 loss against the Denver Nuggets, Rose came into Monday averaging almost three more points a game (18.1 compared to 15.7 before the move, according to ESPN Stats & Information). Over the three contests entering Monday's game, he was averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field.

Most importantly to Thibodeau and the Bulls, Rose came into this game playing with so much more confidence going to the rim. Through his first seven games, he averaged 4.6 shots in the paint. Since the Denver game, he came in averaging 7.4 shots in the paint, and he took eight against the Hawks on Monday.

On Monday, he struggled with his jumper and didn't go to the rim as much. The Hawks packed the paint, daring Rose to shoot from the outside. He didn't seem bothered by the looks, believing that they were the right play.

"Shots that I normally hit, tonight they were flat," said Rose, who had 14 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. "Just didn't have no lift to them. I guarantee you, next game, that won't happen."

But that's one of the other small differences. The pre-injury Rose would have seen that his shot wasn't working and driven it to the rim. He would have either gotten fouled at the basket or created more space for his teammates on the drive. Twenty-four games into this season, there is still some hesitancy.

"I want him attacking," Thibodeau said. "When he attacks, he's special. When he tries to pace himself, that's not going to work. He's got to be aggressive. As I said, it's not perfect. But over the course of the game, he's going to make a lot more good plays than he is bad, and that's all good for us. He can't be afraid to take a chance, he's got great instincts, he's got great ability. I want him to go. It didn't work out this time, but it will work out next time."

Thibodeau and Rose are taking the right course of action: continue pumping the positivity and hope that everything clicks again consistently for the former MVP. Whether it's fair or not, Rose was so good before the first injury and raised the expectations so high on his game that it's still tough for all involved to get used to seeing him find the way back into a rhythm.

Back in the pre-injury days, the Bulls knew what they were getting from Rose every game. There were nights like Monday night when he wouldn't shoot well or turned the ball over a lot, but everyone knew that when the game was on the line, Rose would be the one making the right plays. No one knows whether Rose will become that player again.

"It's all a read," Rose said of his aggressiveness. "If someone's going, I'm not going to try and affect the game with just shooting up crazy shots, or shooting up a shot that I have no business shooting up just because I haven't shot a shot. I'm going to feel the game, see how things are going to go and try to involve myself in the game at some point."

That is a distinct change from seasons past, and it remains to be seen whether that will work over the long haul. The Bulls have more offensive talent than they did in Rose's first few seasons. They aren't leaning on him as much as they used to, but to get to where they want to go they're going to have to turn back the clock.

"I think they can attack you in a lot of different ways," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Bulls. "They have more options and really talented offensive guys. I do think he's striking that balance. There probably have been times over the last three or four years where so much was expected from him. As a group, they have more ways to attack you offensively and maybe the burden isn't on him. That's a great thing for any player. I think he's finding that rhythm and balance of both. It's not good for the rest of us."

Derrick Rose looking more like his old self

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
11:55
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- While the rest of the basketball world doubted whether Derrick Rose would ever be the same player he used to be before knee injuries changed the course of his career, the former MVP remained steadfast in the personal belief he had in himself. If he ever had doubts that he would return to being an elite level player, he never aired those out publicly. His game may have changed, his mindset may be different, but his public confidence never wavered. That's why the 26-year-old didn't seem surprised after dropping 31 points in 32 minutes in Friday's 115-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He always knew he would take -- and make -- big shots late in games again as he did on Friday.

"I always say that's what a player like myself is supposed to do," Rose said. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody else, I think. I'm my hardest critic. Just going down and being in that situation as a kid, those are the shots that you think about. As a player that wants to get to the highest potential that you possibly can, you want them shots. You want that on your résumé."

Aside from the fact that Rose went 14-for-24 from the field, what pleases his coaches and teammates most is that a majority of those shots came as he was driving to the rim. For the second straight game, Rose looked much more comfortable taking the ball to the hole, while creating more space for himself and his teammates.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose, Robin Lopez
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDerrick Rose managed a season-high 31 points in the win over Portland.
Throughout the first month of this season, Rose looked unsure of himself and his surroundings on the floor. Over the past week, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been much more open about the fact he would like to see Rose drive instead of continuing to settle for 3-pointers. It was clear against the Blazers that Rose has gotten the message.

"We all feel that he's going to be back to the same guy that he was," Thibodeau said. "He's going step by step. He's got to keep building, keep attacking; when he's aggressive like that there's no one like him."

That's what has to scare the rest of the league the most. Rose is only going to get better as he continues shaking the rust off his game. He's only going to gain more confidence once the minutes restrictions that have been imposed on him in the first part of the season are lifted by the front office. Rose is teaching himself how to dominate again.

He's re-learning what it takes to be great night after night. He's remembering what it feels like to get up for high-quality opponents night after night. Rose doesn't like to speak about personal one-on-one matchups, but he thrived off the competition against Blazers guard Damian Lillard. On Friday, his desire to drive was noticeable to most everyone in the United Center, including his teammates.

"From the get-go he was aggressive," veteran Pau Gasol said. "I think he scored 11 points in the first quarter. Being aggressive, getting to the lane, shooting those tough floaters outside the lane. So you could tell he was on tonight and he was on that go mode. That's always a great sign to see from anyone, but especially from Derrick."

The best sign for the Bulls late in this one was that Rose paired with backup Aaron Brooks and carried the team down the stretch. The guards sliced and diced through the Blazers' defense and seemed to enjoy playing off one another. It's a look that Thibodeau hasn't used much this season, but it's one that he would be wise to go back to when looking for an offensive boost.

"Our games are different," Brooks said. "Coming off the pick-and-roll and the bigs are seeing two different styles: Power and then I guess I would say finesse a little bit. It's like the two double running backs [system] they use in the NFL."

Whatever it is, it worked for the Bulls in this one. Rose looks more and more like his old self. He looks like the type of player who can put his team on his back and carry it for long stretches of the game offensively. Rose is starting to look more and more like his old self -- the way he always envisioned his comeback turning out.

Rose gets message about attacking basket

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
12:05
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose got the message Wednesday night.

He heard all the chatter about how he hasn't been driving to the rim enough during games and how he's been settling for too many three-pointers, and he decided to do something about it.

In what was arguably his best offensive performance of the season, Rose drove to the rim and opened up the floor as he racked up 23 points in a 105-80 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Rose called the win a "statement game," given that the Bulls came into the contest with a 2-5 home record.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesThe more aggressive Derrick Rose is, "the better for our team," Tom Thibodeau said.
He said he made it a point to attack the basket.

"I think so," he said. "Just trying to let this process work itself out. Trying to find ways in the game while being a point guard, trying to get other guys going, just trying to get a feel for the game and seeing whenever I can attack. I think I'm fighting my way through it. I'm not all the way there yet, but it's a process."

That's what coach Tom Thibodeau has been harping on since the start of training camp. He's been trying to give Rose the opportunity to come along at his own pace in the wake of two serious knee injuries. But in recent days, Thibodeau has been more open about his desire to see Rose go the rim more frequently.

"I thought Derrick was more aggressive in general," Thibodeau said. "That's what we need from him. He has to continue to be that. The more aggressive he is, the better for our team."

Rose remains confident he will return to the elite level he was at before the injuries.

"Y'all are the ones that's going to be surprised by the way that I'm playing," he said. "Just give me a little minute. I know where I'm going to be. I know how good I am, and I'm very confident with my craft and how good I am, period. So y'all are the ones that's going to be surprised with how I'm playing in a little while."

Taj Gibson preached patience regarding expectations for his teammate.

"The thing about Derrick, he is the same person, he's the same player, I think," Gibson said. "[The media] is so hypocritical in what he does. You got to understand, he's playing with hamstring injuries. That stuff is tough. Track runners sit out after getting their hamstrings hurt. They sit down. He's still out there playing through all that stuff. So I don't think it's anything about him being an old player -- I think he's just grinding as a player. He's getting better, and he's only going to get better. He's still young."

Rose believes that as well. He's trying to take a steady approach along the way.

"Every night it's not going to be my night," Rose said. "And I just got to live with that. I'm human. The one thing I can't do is lose confidence. I've worked too hard. I'm one of the hardest workers in the league."

Sights and sounds of Bulls' 2014 Circus Trip

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
7:51
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Derrick RoseAP Photo/Rick BowmerBefore we officially say goodbye to the Circus Trip, we look back at some of the best moments.
After a 15-day, seven-city road trip that led the Chicago Bulls from coast to coast, there were bound to be a few entertaining stories. This year's "Circus Trip" -- which, according to ESPN Stats and Information and a little help from Google Maps, was the longest of the Tom Thibodeau era and racked up 4,426 miles -- was a productive one for the Bulls. Nick Friedell, who was there every step of the way, shares some of those moments in this diary.


Nov. 17: 11:05 a.m. PT, UCLA Student Activities Center, Los Angeles

Derrick Rose almost always commands the media’s attention after practice, but that didn't happen this day. A few reporters stood around Rose to get the latest update on his injured left hamstring, which would keep him out of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers later that night, but it was former veteran power forward Pau Gasol who drew the biggest crowd. Gasol, who spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, made his first appearance back in his old professional hometown since he signed with the Chicago Bulls over the summer.

Gasol was asked how difficult it was to leave Los Angeles for Chicago. He was ready with a response before the question was even finished.

"Very, it was very difficult," he said. "It was very difficult. As much as I went through what I went through here the last couple of years, it kind of wore me out. It drained me in different ways. It was still difficult to make that call and leave this city, this team."

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellStaples Center attendees watched the "Hunger Games" team work the red carpet across the street.

Nov. 17: 5:12 p.m. PT, Staples Center, L.A.

As usual, Jimmy Butler was one of the first people on the floor to warm up before the Bulls took on the Clippers. Meanwhile, across the street from the arena, Jennifer Lawrence was about to walk down the red carpet in advance of the premiere of the latest “Hunger Games” installment.

The Bulls were without Rose (left hamstring) and Gasol, whose left calf injury felt worse after shootaround, but Butler wasn't fazed. He beat assistant coach Adrian Griffin in a quick jump-shot contest and then turned into a coach himself while sitting on the bench a few minutes later and watching rookie Cameron Bairstow take shots near the 3-point line.

"That's a 2!" Butler shouted after Bairstow took a couple jumpers with his foot on the 3-point line. Bairstow collected himself, moved his foot a couple inches back and started firing again.

"There you go," Butler said.

Nov. 17: 10:28 p.m. PT, Staples Center, L.A.

The visitor's locker room was excited. The Bulls had just surprised the Clippers and opened this 15-day road swing with a win. Joakim Noah could barely contain his joy. He wrote a number on the dry erase board with a message, wondering (in so many words) which of his teammates were ready to party.

"It's very important," said Butler, who finished with 22 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. "Start of this road trip. It's a big win for us. It just shows how deep we are and how confident everybody is in everybody else. I think it's huge, and we're going to celebrate, as Jo is probably telling y'all over there."

Nov. 19: 10:02 a.m. PT, Clippers' practice facility, Playa Vista, California

Rookie Doug McDermott couldn't help but smile as he discussed the commotion that had sprung up around the Internet about the pictures of him with Kid Ink and Clippers stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

"Everyone asked me if I photobombed Kid Ink," McDermott said as head trainer Jeff Tanaka got him taped up and ready for practice on a training table. "I'm like, 'No, man. That had nothing to do with me.'"

Thibodeau was just hopeful McDermott and fellow rookie Nikola Mirotic could start producing more on the floor. With Gasol out of the lineup, Mirotic scored 12 points in the win over the Clippers, but he also racked up five fouls in 18 minutes, much to Thibodeau's chagrin. McDermott did not score in 10 minutes and was struggling to find consistency with his shot.

"The thing with Niko -- he's playing behind three really good players," Thibodeau said in reference to Gasol, Noah and Taj Gibson. "Right now, they're a lot better than he is. But I'm very pleased with both of those guys. They just got to keep working. When they get in there, get the job done. I like them a lot, and I think they're only going to get better and better as time goes on."

BullsCourtesy Nick FriedellThe view of Manhattan Beach, near the Clippers' Playa Vista, Calif., practice facility, isn't too bad.

Nov. 20: 10:22 p.m. PT, Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, California

Bulls GM Gar Forman had been with the team since the start of the trip, but he left after the game to go scouting for a few days. Before he left, he wanted to make sure his players were intact.

The Bulls, who lost to the Sacramento Kings this night, were already without Rose and Gasol, and now it appeared they would miss veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for a while. Hinrich left the game after taking a charge from Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins and was being checked out. Forman stood patiently in the back of the arena while waiting for news.

As Hinrich gingerly walked out of the checkup, he bumped into former teammate Brad Miller, who was sitting courtside watching all the action. The Bulls said Hinrich's X-rays were negative, but he had a chest contusion.

For the third straight year, the Bulls lost their cool in Sacramento. A year after getting ejected for screaming at officials, Noah got a technical again and almost got tossed. He admitted later, in the cramped locker room, that he he had been reminding himself on the floor to just breathe.

"Jo's an emotional guy," Thibodeau said. "You don't want to take that away from him. You're on the road -- you're not going to get calls. It is physical out there. It's just the way it is. There was some frustration to deal with, but we've still got to find a way to pull that out in the end.

Nov. 21: 9:27 p.m. PT, Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

The third quarter was about to come to a close against the Portland Trail Blazers, but Taj Gibson's night was already over. Almost a year to the day after Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in the same building, Gibson slowly crutched his way back to the Bulls' locker room with assistant athletic trainer Armando Rivas after re-injuring his left ankle.

Thibodeau didn't want to hear about the bad mojo in the building after the Bulls dropped their second straight, but his players believed, understandably, that Portland had turned into a house of horrors for them. One player muttered "F--- this place" as he peeled off his uniform. Gibson hobbled back into the locker room on crutches and was in a walking boot. He said one of the first people he spoke to in the locker room was Rose, who urged him to be patient.

Gibson was understandably frustrated.

"I didn't even want to wear crutches," he said. "I didn't want to wear a boot, and it's tough right now. I got to wear a boot, and I got to wear crutches -- doctor's orders. Just got to get this thing calmed down."

Nov. 23: 11:07 a.m. PT, Trail Blazers' practice facility, Tualatin, Oregon

Gibson had been sent back to Chicago to be checked by team physician Dr. Brian Cole. Rose and Gasol lingered in the training room of the Blazers' facility to get some last-minute instructions. Rose spoke to Bulls' director of sports performance, Jen Swanson, before heading toward the floor. The Bulls had a week left to go, but Gasol remained upbeat that if the starting five could play together more, they would be fine.

"I think injuries are just part of the game," he said. "There's certain teams that suffered maybe a little more, but I think it comes and goes. I don't think nobody's frustrated at this point. But we are facing some adversity as far as guys not being able to go. But it's hard to get the full roster healthy at the same time. Once we get it, it will be great ... we just got to play through it."

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellThe marquee previewed the point guard matchup that awaited the Bulls in Game 4 of their road swing.

Nov. 24: 9:42 p.m. MT, Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City

Mike Dunleavy only had two points on this night, but his two might have been the most important of the game. With about 25 seconds left in regulation and the Bulls down by one, Butler raced down the floor to try to lay in the ball. The problem for Butler was Jazz swingman Alec Burks was behind him and blocked the attempt. Dunleavy, who had been following the play down the floor, picked the ball up and dropped it in the basket to give the Bulls a lead they would not relinquish.

After the game, the veteran shooter joked with reporters about interviewing him about his game-winner. There was a sense of relief in the air for the Bulls, who did not want to head to Denver, a place where they had lost seven straight, on a three-game losing streak. When asked after the game about the Bulls' struggles in Denver, Thibodeau wanted no part of it.

"Were you there for all seven of them?" he said.

"Five," he's told.

"OK, so you know there were probably some circumstances involved if you looked closely," he said. "So past history has nothing to do with it. I know with this group, since I've been here, we've always found a way to scratch games out. That's all we're thinking about. We're going to go in there, get ready to play, and we know how good they are. We're going to have to be ready. It's not, 'What happened 100 years ago.' We know what we got to do."

Nov. 25: 8:18 p.m. MT, Pepsi Center, Denver

This halftime was an interesting one for the Bulls. Adrian Griffin raided the candy container that the training staff carries during games before finding a piece of gum. Rose, who looked disengaged in just 10 minutes of play in the first half, stayed back in the locker room. Hinrich started with a group that was also without Noah, who was battling ongoing issues with his knee and whose vision was blurred some after being poked in the eye against the Jazz.

The Bulls were on the way to their eighth loss in a row in Denver, and the questions surrounding Rose's long-term health were growing louder than ever, but the Bulls' locker room remained calm amidst their third loss in four games. Hinrich sat on one side wrapped up like a mummy. He was giving Butler, who just tied his career high with 32 points, a hard time for speaking in the third person.

Thibodeau called Butler a “star” after the game, but Butler disagreed.

"I'm not a star," Butler said. "I'm a good role player on a really, really good team -- a really, really deep team. I like role players. 'Star' has never been next to Jimmy Butler's name. It never will be. I'll always be just an under-the-radar dog."

It's hard to be modest after sinking 18-of-20 free throw attempts, but Butler tried to pull it off as the Bulls headed back to their hotel before a morning flight across the country to Boston.

Nov. 27: 1:15 p.m. ET, Emerson College, Boston

With an afternoon start the following day, Thibodeau opted for a two-plus-hour practice on Thanksgiving, toward the end of the long road trip. Instead of flying home for a day, the veteran coach wanted to keep his team focused on the last leg of their trip.

Despite being away from their families, the Bulls appeared to be in good spirits. Noah was talking trash in advance of the team ping-pong tournament that would be held later that night. Mirotic was telling his teammates about his ping-pong prowess in Montenegro. Rivas was walking around the floor trying to get a count of which players would participate in the tournament. Veteran center Nazr Mohammed declined the invitation but posted a video of the proceedings later on Twitter and Instagram.

An afternoon Thanksgiving feast awaited at the team hotel, but as players started filing out, Noah continued talking trash to Bairstow while the Australian rookie knocked down free throws.

Noah, who said both his knee and eye were feeling better, was excited about playing in Boston.

"I think it's a great atmosphere," he said. "People here really know basketball. They appreciate competition. They talk a lot of s---. ... I love it."

Nov. 28: 4:12 p.m. ET, TD Garden, Boston

The Bulls had just come back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Celtics, and excitement jolted around the visitor's locker room. For just the fourth time this season, the Bulls' starters played together -- and played well. Noah had his best game of the year, Rose showed flashes of his old self, and Gasol and Butler were steady as usual.

Rose was asked about Thibodeau's ability to push the Bulls through adversity.

"It's just who he is," Rose said. "That's who this group is. The nucleus of this group has been together for a long time. We added some pieces, but the nucleus, we've been together, we've been through almost everything together. We went to the conference finals together. We've seen a lot. We've played through a lot, played through a lot of injuries, and we know how good we are. We know how good our coach and our coaching staff is. We're just trying to stay focused."

That focus took a hit a few moments later when Gibson, who rejoined the team the night before, picked up a yellow bucket of ice that had been sitting in the middle of the locker room and dumped it on players in the shower.

"Tajjjy Woo is back!" Noah exclaimed happily.

TripCourtesy Nick FriedellThe Bulls set up shop in the gym of Baruch College in preparation for their game against the Nets.

Nov. 29: 11:37 a.m. ET, Baruch College, New York City

Bulls video coordinator and jack-of-all-trades Dice Yoshimoto bounded down two floors and into the small gymnasium the Bulls practiced in for the day. The team bus was running, late and it was up to Yoshimoto to make sure everything was in order when Thibodeau and Co. arrived.

When they do, about 20 minutes later, it was clear Thibodeau, ever the control freak, was ready to jump right into action after being knocked off schedule.

Is it mentally any tougher to get guys up for the last game of a long trip?

"Well, that's the challenge of our league," Thibodeau said before launching into a familiar refrain. "The challenge of the league is, every night there's something different to deal with. Whether you're on the road for a long time or it's the last game of a long homestand, last game of a long road trip, first game back, early start, late start, back-to-back, four in [five], there's something every night. That's why you have to develop the right habits to prepare to play and to understand what goes into winning."

Gasol, who won two NBA championships with the Lakers, understands what goes into winning. That extended to the ping-pong table as well. A couple days after he won the Bulls' ping-pong tournament, it was the victory over Noah in the semifinals that he was thinking about moments before practice began.

"It's always fun playing Jo," Gasol said. "He's very intense. So I enjoy beating him. A lot."

Nov. 30: 5:52 p.m. ET, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

After the Bulls finished a winning Circus Trip (4-3) for just the second time in 10 years, the happiness in the visitor's locker room was palpable. A smiling Thibodeau reached into a small fridge for a Diet Coke and headed out the door while happily talking to veteran Aaron Brooks.

Butler, a Houston Texans fan, had an orange Denver Broncos jersey hanging in his locker door. My first thought was he might have lost a bet to a teammate, but Butler explained the No. 88 Demaryius Thomas jersey.

"My favorite player in the league, man," he said. "The Texans are my team, but this is my favorite player."

Butler said he caught up with Thomas in Denver.

"DeMaryius has a great background also," Butler said. "But more than anything, he's just a good dude, man. He came to the game in Denver, and we kicked it for a little bit, and I got a lot of respect for the guy."

Was hanging with Thomas, Butler's favorite moment on the trip?

"Just winning," he said with a smile. "We're 4-3 on the trip. That's enough for me, man. Winning games, baby."

With that, Butler made his way toward the exit. There was another plane to catch and more games to play, but if anyone deserved to savor the moment a little more, it was Butler.

He took his game to another level on this 15-day odyssey, and he's playing with the confidence to prove it.

Rose clears another hurdle in win over Nets

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
7:13
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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NEW YORK -- As the rest of the basketball world wonders whether he will ever be the same player, Derrick Rose remains confidently defiant when it comes to the trajectory of his career.

He hears the criticism that has come his way over the past couple of seasons, and he believes that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that doesn't mean he has to agree with them.

In scoring 14 points and grabbing six rebounds in the Chicago Bulls' win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, Rose cleared another major hurdle in his recovery. With 26 more minutes in the books, Rose has now started -- and finished -- two consecutive games for the first time all season.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose says he's confident in his progress this season regardless of what others think.
After it was over, Rose shed some more light on the mindset that he carries with him on the road to recovery. While he respects his teammates and coaches' opinions, Rose understands that nobody knows him better than he does.

"When it comes to basketball, I listen to myself," Rose said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself and my talent. I know where I'm going to be in a couple of weeks. I know where I'm going to be at the end. It's just that y'all are going to be surprised to see me there. It's just going to take time."

Time is on the Bulls' side these days as they continue to figure out ways to keep Rose and the rest of the starting five on the floor. The good vibes emanating from the visitors locker room at Barclays Center on Sunday night only heightened the confidence that the Bulls' entire staff is feeling these days. With Rose healthy and producing on the floor, the Bulls know they are a legitimate title contender.

"For Derrick, it's just put everything you have into each and every day," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. "Don't skip steps. We know he's a championship-caliber player. He's got to help lead the team, it's not only him, it's what he's doing for the team. He's the leader. How he practices, how he works, how he approaches things, that's important for our team. And that's how you build chemistry.

"We need him out there in practice being a leader, in the games being a leader, and just keep building ... when he's on the floor you can see the type of team that we are. This season when he's out there his plus/minus is off the charts. So we know what he means to our team."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is just the second time in 10 years the Bulls have concluded their annual "circus trip" with a winning record (4-3). The team was also 4-3 during Thibodeau's first season in 2010. The health of their starters has played a big role in their success on this trip. The Bulls improved to 5-0 on the season when their intended starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah start.

Aside from the daily questions about Rose's health, Thibodeau has also started fielding daily questions about a new star who helped guide the Bulls to that winning record over the past two weeks: Butler.

The fourth-year swingman continues to take his game to another level. He scored 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor and 11-of-13 from the foul line Sunday. When asked after the game whether he can keep this pace up, Butler, who averaged 22.7 points a game on the trip, demurred.

"I guess we'll see," he said. "I just wanted to be on the scouting report to tell you the truth. I don't think I was on the scouting report last year. So maybe I made a way onto people's scouting report this year."

Butler has done so in a major way, but he also understands that the Bulls are only going to go as far as Rose takes them. That's why the Bulls felt so good about the way Rose led the offense over the past few days. They can see he is getting his confidence back on the floor, and they know that will make them even more dangerous in the long run.

"I'm just trying to string some games together," Rose said. "Just try to get better every quarter. Have amnesia. I shot two air balls tonight, I think that's the first [time] ever. But just trying to take every positive out of the situation and really drive off of it. I know that it's a tough situation with what we're in because we're traveling, then we got to go home, then we get back on the road, but I'm happy where we're at. Our record isn't what we want it to be, but we know that it's a long season."

For the Bulls to get where they want to go in that season, Rose has to remain on the floor. Over the past two weeks, the frustration and joy Thibodeau has felt with Rose's lingering health status has been on full display. He badly wants the former MVP to produce on the floor, but he also understands that he can't push Rose too hard and risk hurting his fragile psyche.

It's a delicate balancing act for the veteran coach, but it's one that is crucial to the Bulls' long-term success. It's just as crucial as Rose being able to play in games for weeks at a time without injury.

"It's good," Thibodeau said of Rose being able to play from start to finish in two consecutive games. "To me, it's moving in the right direction. As I said before, when he strings some games together, when he practices well and he practices hard, he's going to play well. It's really that simple. And it's time to go. So we need our whole team, and that's the only way we're going to build chemistry.

"We got to work on conditioning, we got to work on toughness, we got to work on discipline. We got to take care of those things. You can't shortcut that."

Bulls starting five looking for consistency

November, 29, 2014
Nov 29
5:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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NEW YORK -- Derrick Rose and his teammates can see into the future.

They know if they can somehow manage to stay healthy -- especially the starting unit of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol -- they can be very dangerous.

"I think [the ceiling is] pretty high," Rose acknowledged before Saturday's practice.

The problem for the Bulls is that coming into Sunday's game against the Brooklyn Nets, that group has played together only four times in the regular season. Rose has missed the most time because of ankle and hamstring injuries, but Butler (thumb), Gasol (strained calf) and Noah (knee/eye/illness) have also missed time as well. A month into a season filled with championship expectations, the Bulls are hoping Friday's win over the Boston Celtics, in which all the starters played solid minutes, is the start of a new chapter of the season.

"It's kind of frustrating a little bit because we know how good we can be," Rose said. "And we know that it's a long season. And we're just trying to stay consistent with everything that we're doing knowing that we have a pretty, pretty good team. Right now defensively, we're not where we want to be."

While Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau are not happy with the defense right now, it's clear that when that group of five is on the floor together, it clicks very well on the offensive end.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, that group is averaging 111.2 points per 48 minutes. It has played 79 total minutes together this season. The players and coaches know if they can keep that group intact it is going to get better.

"We're going to be tough," Butler said. "I think it starts with just getting used to each other out here in practice and then applying it in a game. But we have so many weapons, and guys are doing so many things well in that starting five that it's going to be fun."

The interesting wrinkle to the research is that while the starting group is functioning very well, it's not even the Bulls' most productive group yet from a statistical perspective. That would be the five of Butler, Gasol, Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks and Taj Gibson. That group is averaging 130.5 points per 48 minutes but has played just 21 minutes together.

With Noah and Rose back in the fold, Thibodeau is optimistic they'll finally be able to string some games together. But in order to get better, Thibodeau knows it will be important for that group to start practicing more together.

"It's important," Thibodeau said of the starting group. "I think they have to play together, they have to practice together and that's the only way you can build chemistry. You got to work together. You got to build the right habits. You can't skip that. And so it's a move in the right direction for us."

Butler agreed with his coach's assessment regarding practice.

"I think practices are really important because that's where you get your rhythm going," he said. "We can step into a game at any point in time and make shots, but practicing with each other and getting in a rhythm and knowing what each and every guy likes to do that's in that group is very important."

While the Bulls try to find ways to stay healthy, the unit remains cautiously optimistic, led by Rose. They've seen a glimpse of how good they can be. They know they have the talent to accomplish what they want to later in the season. Now, they just have to prove it.

"I would say that everybody's just anxious to play together," Rose said. "I wouldn't say it's a relief. I think all the guys are, we want to play together but injuries and people being banged up has kind of messed that up. But I think guys are really anxious to get out there and put some games together."

Rose, Noah hope to play vs. Celtics

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
3:32
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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BOSTON -- Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (left hamstring tightness) and center Joakim Noah (left eye/left knee) went through all of Thursday's practice and are both hoping to play Friday afternoon against the Boston Celtics.

Rose said he felt good after playing only 10 minutes in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Rose, who has already missed eight games this season due to injury, did not play in the second half and admitted after the game that he and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided it would be best if he sat out of the second half of the Nuggets game.

"I'm feeling good," Rose said. "I'm taking it one day at a time, getting the most out of all my treatments every day. Like I said before, just really trying to listen to my body. ... If I'm ready to go, I'm ready. If not, just really pay attention to my body. But the plan is that I want to play. So hopefully I'll be out there playing."

Thibodeau echoed those sentiments in regard to Rose's and Noah's participation.

"We'll see [Friday]," Thibodeau said. "But they were great today and we're just going day by day."

Rose, who has yet to start and finish two consecutive games this season, remains confident that he will be able to string together some games in the near future.

"You will see," he said. "You will see. I know I'm going to be all right. It's just that I'm getting a bad hand right now. I'm going through tough times, but I know it could always be worse and I know that I always got faith in myself and faith that somebody's looking over me."

Despite the ongoing pessimism surrounding his latest return, the former MVP remains outwardly confident that he will still be able to play at a high level.

"Coming back and even just playing a quarter, or playing a game, or even winning games and not having played in two years, that gives me a lot of confidence right there," Rose said. "I don't know if too many people could come back with the situation that I had or the hand I was dealt. That gives me confidence just knowing that I feel like I'm different."

After openly saying after Monday's win over the Utah Jazz that Rose needs to find ways to stay on the floor and that his star point guard didn't look "real comfortable with the ball yet," Thibodeau's stance has softened in recent days. That continued Thursday while discussing how Rose performed during his brief appearance against the Nuggets.

"To me, I want to look at it positively and I told him that," Thibodeau said. "The good thing was the way he played in Utah and then the fact he was able to play [in Denver], even though it was 10 minutes, those 10 minutes were good in terms of it gave us 10 minutes and put us in position to win. So it's not what it normally is with him where he plays 30 minutes or anything like that, but it's a step in the right direction. That's all we want him to do. He came over [to the gym], he felt good [Wednesday], he came over last night, he shot last night, he was great tonight. So it's all moving in the right direction. And that's all we want."

In other injury-related news, Thibodeau said power forward Taj Gibson is expected to rejoin the Bulls at some point on Thursday. He has been out all week after spraining his left ankle in the Bulls' loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 21. It remains unlikely Gibson will play in the near future, including Sunday afternoon's game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Bulls injury updates: Rose, Gasol, Gibson

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:24
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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TUALATIN, Ore. -- Injured Chicago Bulls stars Derrick Rose (strained left hamstring) and Pau Gasol (strained left groin) are expected to go through all of Sunday's practice, according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

Both Rose and Gasol are still questionable for Monday's game against the Utah Jazz. So is Kirk Hinrich, who is still recovering from bruised ribs suffered in Thursday's loss to the Sacramento Kings. Thibodeau said Hinrich would participate in "some" of Sunday's practice. Bulls power forward Taj Gibson has been sent back to Chicago to have his injured left ankle checked by team doctors.

As for Rose, who has now missed four straight games because of a hamstring injury and eight overall this season, Thibodeau remains convinced that the former MVP will be able to shake off the rust that has hovered over his game.

"You just have to take it as it comes," Thibodeau said before Sunday's practice. "So whatever the circumstances are, we're going to make the best of those. We'll see where Derrick is today after he practices. And hopefully he'll get to a point where he can string some games together. And when that happens, the rust will come off. From what we've seen thus far when he's been out there, he's looked great, so we just got to get him out there."

Thibodeau was noncommittal in regard to whether Rose is closer to playing than where he was after the initial hamstring injury happened Thursday against the Toronto Raptors.

"It's hard to say," Thibodeau said. "He's moving a lot better, so from that standpoint [it's good], but I want to see where he is today after practice."

For his part, Gasol sounded optimistic about his chances of playing on Monday. He originally got hurt over a week ago in a loss to the Indiana Pacers.

"I'm feeling a lot better," Gasol said. "I was able to do some running [Saturday] on the court. Do some shooting on the move. Did a little work and it didn't flare up, have any setbacks so [that's] perfect. So I think we're on the right track, and today I expect to go a full practice."

As for Gibson, Thibodeau said he is expected to be day-to-day after being checked out by team doctor Brian Cole. Gibson, who has been dealing with left ankle injuries for the past couple of seasons, reinjured the ankle in the third quarter of Friday's loss to the Trail Blazers. He had X-rays after the game that were negative but left the Moda Center on crutches and a walking boot.

"The encouraging thing is there was not much swelling," Thibodeau said. "So we'll go from there. I don't want to play doctor. Dr. Cole will make that determination."

Misery in Portland continues for Bulls

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
1:50
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Chicago Bulls' night of misery began about an hour before their 105-87 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers even started on Friday night. After a slow bus ride to the Moda Center full of traffic and cold rain, the Bulls' players and coaches filed into the quiet visitor's locker room. As players began heading out to the court, one main sound was audible above the din of the noises that accompany a team in the midst of a long two-week, coast-to-coast trip.

It was the sound coming from Derrick Rose's leg compression machine.

Almost a year to the day Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in the same building, Rose laid on the ground with both of his legs in compression sleeves, quietly watching videos on his cellphone. He didn't play Friday night because of ongoing left hamstring issues, but the reminders of what had occurred a year before were fresh in everyone's memory.

Every time the Bulls come to Portland lately it seems as if something bad happens. Friday night's game was just the latest example of that. Damian Lillard dominated a depleted Bulls' squad that was also playing without Pau Gasol (strained left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (bruised ribs). The Bulls came into the game having lost eight of their last 10 games in Portland, giving up an average of 101.5 points in each contest according to ESPN Stats & Information. After the Trail Blazers' latest triumph, the Bulls have now lost seven straight games here.

Aside from the loss, the bigger issue on this night for the Bulls was the fact they lost Taj Gibson to a sprained left ankle that could keep him out a little while. Gibson had to be helped off the court by his teammates in a scene similar to the one Rose endured last season. While Gibson's ankle injury isn't nearly as serious as Rose's knee injury was, it had to feel like déjà vu for Bulls' personnel to see Gibson head to the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot after the game. A year earlier, it was Rose who stood on crutches in the back of the visitor's locker room staring into a mirror and wondering about his own future.

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson
Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY SportsTaj Gibson is helped off the floor in Portland after spraining his ankle.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't want to hear about the parallel storylines after the game, believing the injuries Rose and Gibson sustained could have happened anywhere.

"I don't get caught up in that stuff," he said. "Injuries are part of the game. If a guy gets hurt, he gets hurt. But it's not the building, it's not any of that stuff. Injuries are part of the game so you just deal with them."

His players understand that, but they didn't feel the same way about the bad mojo that seems to come their way every time they play in Portland.

"F--- this place," one player muttered in the locker room as he peeled off his jersey.

As much as Thibodeau may not want to admit, the injury to Gibson only reinforced the bad feelings the players have when they walk into this building after seeing what happened to Rose a year ago.

"This is the NBA," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It sucks that guys get hurt. But you just got to keep going forward, the games keep coming, and nobody feels sorry for you, so you just got to keep going and we just got to get better and hopefully Taj gets better soon."

In a strange twist, when Gibson hobbled his way back to the locker room after injuring his ankle in the third quarter, one of the first people he saw was Rose, who had been sitting in the locker room during the game. After dealing with all the ups and downs of another year of rehab on his knee, Rose's message to Gibson was clear as they talked in the same building in which the former MVP's season ended.

"He was just saying to me, 'It's that same ankle that's been bothering you.' " Gibson said of his talk with Rose. "I was like, 'Yes.' He said, 'You just got to be patient. You really got to get on top of that. It's a long year. You can't sprint to the finish line already. You got a long fight, you just got to be smart and get back fully healthy.' "

After another meltdown against the Trail Blazers, that sounds like sage advice. Rose understands Gibson's pain better than anyone -- and that's why it should come as little surprise that Rose was the first player to exit the locker room late Friday night. He wanted to get out of the building as quickly as possible.

So did the Bulls.

The changes of Derrick Rose

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
1:22
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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TORONTO -- Derrick Rose has changed.

Not his game. His perspective.

"Yeah, just letting me know what's real," Rose said Thursday, in the wake of comments he made about his health and future. "As long as I'm being myself and inspiring people the way that I am and touching people the way that I am, that's all I can do, caring about myself and just being positive."

The aura of invincibility that defined Rose's game earlier in his career is gone, too. That's not to say he can't be the same player he once was, or close to it, after the injuries, the surgeries, and the ups and downs of 2 1/2 years worth of rehab. But Rose has begun thinking and openly discussing his future, in basketball and after his career is over, more than ever before.

Before the injuries, Rose always wanted to be on the floor. He played through nagging pain because he wanted to prove he was the best. He played with no fear. More importantly, he didn't allow fear to cloud his thoughts. There was no talk about the future, only the next game, the next challenge.

When he came back last season and his right knee gave out after 10 games, all those doubts and insecurities came to the forefront again. All the hard work he put in to get himself back on the floor went out the window. But as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out again Thursday, there are three aspects to Rose's latest return: mental, physical and emotional.

Which leads us back to the former MVP's recent comments.

Could Rose have been more eloquent in choosing his words earlier this week? Yes. He's in the third year of a max contract from the Bulls that will pay him almost $100 million in total. The shoe deal he has with Adidas is worth more than $200 million. The average person can't comprehend that kind of money, or the idea that a 26-year-old wouldn't want to play through the soreness of a couple of sprained ankles after missing so much time the past two seasons.

But Rose doesn't seem to care nearly as much about the public's reaction to his decisions like he once did. He knows he has to make decisions that are best for his long-term health, not for any kind of short-term gain. Most of all, Rose knows better than almost anyone that his basketball life is short.

That doesn't make him much different than his teammates, who know how much risk is involved in what they do, and they have stood solidly behind Rose for the past 2 1/2 years because they see all the work he puts in behind the scenes. They are willing to continue to be patient with Rose as he makes his way back because they know they can't win a championship without him.

Privately, several teammates and Bulls personnel blamed the media partially for the uproar caused by Rose's comments. Even if Rose was the one who turned an innocuous question into a national story, the organization is looking to move forward. Bulls center Joakim Noah stood up for Rose on Thursday after their 100-93 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

"This is not a one-man team," Noah said. "But at the end of the day we need him, we need him and I don't want to see him down. I know sometimes it's frustrating, you've got injuries, you've got tweaks. Every time something happens to him people act like it's the end of the world and that's f---ing so lame to me. Relax. He's coming back from two crazy surgeries, obviously we're being conservative with him, and when things aren't going right, he's got to listen to his body more than anybody. So everybody needs to chill the f--- out."

So just how much has Rose changed since that first knee injury? Everybody seems to have an opinion, but those directly involved seem to agree that things are different.

"I think all players should change each year," Thibodeau said before Thursday's game. "You should grow with each year of experience, so you never want to stay the same. So I think he's had to deal with a lot of adversity, you have to learn how to get past that. I think it's all part of being a pro. I think most guys at some time or another during their career, they're going to get hit with something that they have to get past.

"Unfortunately for him, it was two consecutive injuries, two consecutive years. I think for him the only way to approach it is the way he has approached it. You have to look at it really as seeds of growth. How do you get past it? Keep grinding away. He's got to shake a lot of rust off. When you're out that long, basically it's been three years, that's a long time in pro sports."

But even as Rose continues to look more like the same player physically, Bulls' personnel understand that might be the easiest step in the process. The mental part of the game, especially after the temporary setbacks he's already suffered this season, scares the Bulls more than anything else because of the uncertainty of it all.

In the short-term, Rose is just trying to stay positive after his latest setback this season, a hamstring injury suffered Thursday night.

"This is going to happen," Rose said of the setbacks. "Talking to a lot of people that had surgeries, my agent [B.J. Armstrong] had five or six surgeries. It's just going to happen, especially when you miss two years ... [I'm] just trying to do everything right. Eat right, hydrate right, stretch right, work on my flexibility, just trying to put everything on my side so at the end of the day I'm just trying to get better."

But that's the biggest quandary for Bulls management moving forward. Even if he does everything right in his rehab, will all these setbacks take too much of an emotional toll? Rose may physically regain his form, but that mindset has changed, and it doesn't seem as if it will ever be the same.

Does that mean Rose was wrong for being honest about his future?

No. It means he's human.

With Rose back, Bulls' balance in order

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
12:07
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- For the first time in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls actually had their entire starting five on the floor playing together Monday in a 102-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

That meant the return of Derrick Rose, the straw that stirs the drink for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls, who had missed four of the past five games with sprained ankles. With Rose on the court, it should come as no surprise that the starting unit played its best all-around game of the season. Rose scored 24 points with seven assists, Jimmy Butler continued his solid shooting with 19 points and Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol combined for 30 points, 29 rebounds and 10 assists.

[+] EnlargeRose
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastDerrick Rose scored 24 points in his return to the Bulls after missing four of the past five games with sprained ankles.
"It was really nice," Gasol said of finally playing with the Bulls' intended starting five.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson have garnered a lot of praise in the past few months for putting together the deepest roster in Thibodeau's tenure. But as solid as this group looks on paper, they know this team is only going to go as far as Rose takes them.

Rose has the rare ability to make everyone around him better, as he showed on Monday.

"Derrick's a hell of a player," Noah said. "It means having your best player on the court, our floor general. It means a lot. When he's out on the court, he demands so much attention and it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everybody else."

That might be the single biggest reminder from this game: Rose's ability to penetrate opens all kinds of space for his teammates. What has to please Thibodeau is that even when Rose couldn't find his shot during a few possessions in the waning minutes and the Bulls clinging to a 90-88 lead, there was Gasol to knock down a jumper off the ball movement that included a Mike Dunleavy assist. During the next possession, Rose set up an even bigger 3-pointer from Butler for a 95-88 lead with 1:55 remaining just as. Those are the types of possessions that the Bulls are hoping for in May, not just November.

"I think we're such an unselfish team that everybody's finding everybody in positions to score," Butler said. "I think that's one of the pluses of this team; we're each willing to make that extra pass so the next guy can get a great shot."

Lost in the excitement of Rose's return was the fact that Noah played easily the best game of his young season. As he continues to make his way back from offseason knee surgery and, more recently, a bad case of the flu, the All-Star center was more active than he has been in his five games this season with 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.

"I thought Jo, that was one of his best games," Thibodeau said. "You can see [his game] is coming. He and Pau were terrific inside battling and played very well off each other, too. And you're seeing Jo with the multiple-effort-type plays and that's huge for our team."

With Noah slowly improving, Rose continuing to shake off rust, and Gasol, Butler and Dunleavy all learning to play with each other, the Bulls offered a glimpse of what could be. This is the team that believes it can win the organization's seventh NBA championship this season. Gasol came to Chicago for that chance.

"It was good," Gasol said. "It was great to have everyone, the full roster, on the floor available and healthy. So now we just got to keep it that way."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
22.0 3.3 1.5 40.0
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.4
AssistsD. Rose 4.8
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 2.1