Updated: January 25, 2012, 3:17 AM ET

1. Derrick Rose Returns With Speed In Reserve

Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive

Twice, Derrick Rose unleashed his dramatic burst on drives to the rim.

Otherwise, Rose and the Chicago Bulls coasted to a comfortable 110-95 victory over the hapless New Jersey Nets in the reigning MVP's first return to action after missing four games over nine days with a sprained left big toe that may nag him all season.

Rose went for 22 points and eight assists but did not appear to be 100 percent and only sparingly accessed the top gear that has made him one of the league's most difficult perimeter players to contain off the dribble. Instead, Rose focused his attention on hounding Nets star point guard Deron Williams around ball screens and pindowns designed to get New Jersey's only credible scoring threat open looks.

The banged-up Bulls were also without Luol Deng (wrist), Taj Gibson (ankle), and John Lucas III (groin), but Richard Hamilton and the rest of the Bulls buoyed the offense for their fourth straight win.

Hamilton scored an efficient 22 points and added 10 assists as the Bulls relied on a balanced attack, perhaps in an effort to take the stress of being the primary creator off of Rose. Chicago crisply executed a series of curl screens reminiscent of those Hamilton made famous in Detroit, and when New Jersey rotated to prevent Hamilton from shooting, he delivered to his screeners for easy looks along the baseline.

"He makes the right play," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When he's open, he shoots. When he's guarded, he makes the right read."

A terrific matchup at the point guard position was muted by the lopsided score throughout, but Williams gave nearly as good as he got in his duel with Rose. Williams' double-double (16 points, 10 assists) was his seventh in 10 games, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep pace. It's typical for defenses to force great passers like Williams into shooting rather than spreading the ball to open players, but Chicago seemed content to watch Williams' teammates, other than Jordan Farmar (5-for-6 on 3s, 22 points) clank away from outside.

Meanwhile, Rose's teammates showed a confidence and purpose on offense that was at times lacking during the Bulls' arduous climb to the last year's Eastern Conference Finals. All five starters netted double figures, as did super-sub Omer Asik.

Rose has deferred more to his teammates this season even when healthy, and it's possible that the absence of Rose and other key contributors in the past few games has further helped Chicago's less heralded role players find their offensive groove. Indeed, Rose spent the majority of the game circling the perimeter, looking for his long-range shot and distributing to open cutters and shooters rather than bounding and bursting down the lane.

"You can see he was a little tentative," Williams said. "Usually he'll attack a little bit more. But he didn't have to."

From the tip-off, the Bulls were a stampede of effort and skill. When the dust cleared, they had assisted on 33 of their 43 field goals and obliterated the Nets on the boards. They will need to continue developing their diverse attack to overcome defenses in Miami, Philadelphia and Indiana that are well suited to barring Rose from the paint, if such a thing can be said about any team.

A look at the list of injured might suggest the Bulls are falling apart. Their comprehensive victory implies just the opposite -- that Chicago is once again building a championship-caliber team.

An odd note: This matchup doubled as a Jerry Sloan alumni game. Eight players including Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Memet Okur, DeShawn Stevenson, Kris Humphries and, of course, Carlos Boozer and Williams played under the legendary Utah coach.

Beckley Mason's work appears regularly on Hoopspeak

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2. Blazers Get Healthy Against Kings

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Few things cure a team's ailments as reliably as a visit from the Sacramento Kings, and for one night at least much of what troubled the Portland Trail Blazers appeared cured.

Jamal Crawford's jumper? Finding the net again, thank you, after dropping 26 points on a small Sacramento backcourt in a 101-89 win. Secondary scorers? Present and accounted for, with Craig Smith bulling his way to 10 points in his increasing role off the bench to join five other Blazers in double figures. Defensive soundness? Portland held Sacramento to 40 percent shooting, a number that the Kings reached only with the help of some cosmetic fourth-quarter scoring.

But the biggest story was the energy provided by Gerald Wallace in a furious burst at the end of the first half, one that capped a 20-2 Blazer run in which Sacramento went nearly five minutes without scoring. It was a two-point game midway through the second quarter at the time, but the Kings never recovered.

Portland had already reeled off nine straight points when Sacramento called timeout in an effort to stem the bleeding, but Wallace stole the subsequent inbounds pass for an easy fast-break layup. On the next trip, Wallace stripped the ball from DeMarcus Cousins and broke away for another uncontested lay-in. After the Kings finally scored, Wallace shifted gears and spotted up in the corner for a rare 3-pointer; he then swatted a Tyreke Evans layup at the other end to key a Portland transition that led to a Crawford 3. At that point, the game was effectively over.

Wallace had missed the previous game with a finger injury and was questionable to appear in this one, but he finished with 20 points on just 12 shots and added eight boards. It was the extra juice Portland needed, energy that was badly missing in a depressing defeat in Detroit two days earlier.

Not that this cures all. Despite the score, the Blazers weren't terribly happy with their performance, especially early; they still must ramp up their level considerably to beat opponents who run back on defense and pass the ball to each other. Tuesday's game against Memphis, winners of seven straight, provides just that opportunity. For now, they'll take solace in the temporary salve their visitors from River City provided.

3. Daily Dime Live Rewind

Relive and note all the chatter, memes and Photoshops of Monday's Daily Dime Live.


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