- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The thought hasn't even crossed Derrick Rose's mind.
The 21-year-old has won on every single level he's ever been, so the thought of missing the playoffs isn't an option to him. He won't even consider it. That's why he spent Tuesday night feverishly taking over the game at times. scoring 23 points, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing five rebounds. He did his best to single-handedly will his team to victory when they needed him the most.
That's why this particular 111-105 loss to the Suns stung so badly. As was the case so many times this season, Rose and company seemed to be just one shot, one play or one defensive stop from pushing themselves to a much needed victory. As usual though, they came up just short.
Now, with just eight games remaining in the season, the Bulls find themselves in the unenviable position of being a game-and-a-half behind the Raptors for the final spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
"It's hard right now," Rose admitted after the game. "But, you can't think about it like that. We play soon. And that's what I'm thinking about [Wednesday] to let [the team] know our heads can't be down. We came out and played our hardest tonight. We played and competed tonight. We didn't execute our plays like we were supposed to. They did. They won."
The sobering reality on this night is that Rose is exactly right.
As they have all year, the Bulls battled throughout the entire game, but when it mattered most, they just could not dial up the right play to get a stop or a crucial basket. Vinny Del Negro's team always battles to the brink, but when they play against more talented teams, the lack of talent on the Bulls’ roster from top to bottom usually catches up with them in the end.
"We have not been able to get over the hump against some of the better teams," a deflated looking Del Negro said after the game. “Give Phoenix credit, they executed when they had to. That is why they have been so successful over the years and lately this year."
And that is also why the Bulls continue to struggle.
"Players have to make plays down the stretch," the frustrated coach said. "We ran some good sets but were unable to convert. We did some positive things; we just came up a little short."
That quote right there could sum up the entire Bulls season.
Despite the crushing loss though, Del Negro's players still haven't given up the faith.
"We got to be stronger than ever," Noah said. "We got to be tough. We got to be strong, man. Anything can happen in this league -- the goal is to make the playoffs. It's just tough right now because we had our chances. And it's a game that I feel like we could have definitely won. In a matter of three games we can get that eighth seed, so there's no time to get our heads down, even though this one was tough tonight."
That's the attitude that Rose is taking as well. There's still not a doubt in his mind that his team can sneak into the playoffs, despite the fact that since Toronto owns the tiebreaker, they are essentially two and half games ahead of his team.
"I'm actually going to go back to the Berto [Center] right now and shoot with some of my friends," he said as he was about to leave the depressed locker room. "Hopefully [Wednesday] in practice talk to [the team]. Everybody needs to get involved and win some games."
Whether the Bulls end up finding a way to sneak into a playoff match-up with the Cavs or not, Rose's attitude is something that can make any Bulls fan smile on the darkest of days.
When you hear him say things like that it's not hard to understand why he thinks he can't always find a way to win.
15dMatt Walks, ESPN.com