Rose vs. James is game within game

Tuesday's opener features a matchup of the last two players to win NBA MVP, Derrick Rose and LeBron James. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Derrick Rose versus LeBron James might move the needle for NBA fans when Tuesday night's season opener tips off, it's just that not everybody will be so locked into one spot on the court.

The last two players to have won NBA MVP awards could be pitted against each other come crunch time Tuesday, but one person in particular isn't interested in sitting back to drink in a one-on-one matchup for the ages.

So how will Rose, the winner of the 2010-11 MVP, be able to handle a possible head-to-head challenge against James, the league's best player in four of the past five seasons?

"It's not about Derrick and LeBron," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Monday. "It's about the Heat and the Bulls. It's a team game. We expect him to do the right things."

It's hard to argue Thibodeau's premise, but by all accounts, the play of Rose will determine how far the Bulls go this season, and the same can be said for James and the Heat once again. Tuesday's game will simply be a microcosm of that.

In that sense, the nationally televised season opener is as much about Rose versus James as it is Bulls versus Heat.

"He's one of the best in the league," Rose said about James on Monday. "His size, the way he passes the ball, he's just an overall dangerous player, and [Tuesday] we've just got to make sure we stick to him as a team."

One of the best?

"You can call [him] the best," Rose said. "He won a championship, he's got two under him, so for sure, he's the best."

As for that chance that James guards Rose, it could happen, especially if the Heat's guards are having problems containing the Bulls' floor leader. Putting a forward on a guard in an emergency situation isn't typical protocol, but these aren't typical talents.

"When you have a player like that and he's a 3 [forward], and he actually is switching off to stick me, we've just got to find ways to get guys open, take advantage of whoever they put on Luol [Deng] and play real smart basketball because they would want me to force every shot up," Rose said. "But we've just got to play smart and find the mismatch."

On James' plan to personally welcome Rose back to NBA action after missing all of last season because of ACL surgery, Rose seemed to be hearing that idea for the first time.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Rose said. "I appreciate it, but at the same time, just trying to stay focused on what we've got going on here."

Before Thibodeau cut off all Rose versus James talk, he did give at least a little insight into the potential matchup of NBA MVPs.

"That's part of what they do," Thibodeau said. "If you watch what they did last year against point guards, it's an option they go to. It's a great weapon to have. We like to do similar stuff with Jimmy [Butler]. It's just different."