Forget that both have been for so long reduced to two things, ACL tear and point guard, and remember how utterly dissimilar they are. That said, I’ve spend the past year watching Rubio recover from an ACL tear, watching him slowly build from inactivity to cardio to limited practice to limited minutes and now, finally and just in the past month, to playing like the player he was a year ago.
Derrick Rose is not Ricky Rubio, and that argument can go two ways. Derrick Rose is not Ricky Rubio, and so maybe his knee responds differently. Maybe it healed faster, maybe slower, maybe differently — so stop comparing. Conversely, Derrick Rose is not Ricky Rubio, and so his rehab might be more complex based on the way he plays, the jumping and explosiveness and dunking that characterize his game and make him great.
Argument No. 1 is valid, but it’s almost irrelevant. Rose was cleared to play, and ACL recoveries without setbacks follow a rather standard procedure in this day and age. Argument No. 2, though, is what matters. Rose says he doesn’t want to play unless he’s confident that he can dunk off his left knee, and that should be enough. But if it isn’t, just take a look at his game and realize that if it took Ricky Rubio two months of games to gain confidence in driving to the net, it’s going to take Rose more time than that. Rubio’s game, for that matter, involves exactly no explosive elevation, and to do the things that the Bulls point guard does involves an intrinsic trust that one’s joints and muscles are not going to fail.
That trust is hard to get back.
If I’ve learned anything about ACL recoveries this year, it’s that the process represents more an extended therapy session than anything physical. When you watch a player rehab, you ask him about his jump, his shot, his lateral movement. In a vacuum, it’s fine. Things look good in that practice jersey, with assistant coaches surrounding him and guiding his every move.
It’s when games begin and there are five large men doing everything in their power to stop said player from doing his job that things get dicey and the psychoanalysis begins. Suddenly, questions of pain are replaced with questions of trust, and confidence is a shaky, fleeting thing, one that induces sighs and eye-rolls and a pervasive dejectedness. You can see it on the court. You can watch as the player falters and twitches and feeds the ball into situations that come nowhere close to testing his limits.
So no, Derrick Rose isn’t weak or prissy or a selfish prima donna when he says he wants to gain that confidence. And no, he probably won’t get it back, not until he gets into an actual game. But if he waits to debut until he feels as close to 100 percent as possible, until he’s dunked hundreds of times to the point that he no longer thinks about the knee, that’s going to help. That’s going to reduce the chance of this other Derrick Rose arriving in Chicago, one who does things he almost can’t explain, who makes decisions you would never think he’d make — and would never want him to make — who looks like a timid, sad, lesser version of himself.
If Rose were to debut tomorrow, it would take him until long after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs to get into any kind of form that would prevent them from being eliminated. Watching Rubio as closely as I have, I am unfailingly confident in typing this. The Derrick Rose who was cleared to play is not the Derrick Rose who can push the Bulls into contention. When his presence matters as little as it will matter this season, he’s allowed to be patient, cautious. He’s allowed to be too patient, even, too cautious.
Give him that.
The Nuggets: Denver has won eight straight — a streak that includes victories over the Lakers, Clippers and Thunder — and is now 20 games over .500. With a 28-3 record at the Pepsi Center, Denver is tied with Miami for the best home record in the NBA, and George Karl’s team is creeping closer to the no. 4 seed and a shot at home-court advantage in at least one playoff series.
(Note: From this week going forward, I will only consider teams in contention for a playoff spot in this category, because really, do any of you care whether the Bobcats are looking particularly atrocious one week as compared to the last? I didn’t think so.)
The Jazz: Lakers-haters, lament. With the Jazz’s Saturday loss to the Knicks and the Lakers’ Sunday win over the Bulls, Kobe and company moved into sole possession of the eighth seed in the West. The Jazz have lost four straight now and won just one of their past eight, and their playoff dreams, however much they might have been an illusion, are fading further.
Best of the week
Team: The Heat, of course, who clinched a playoff berth Friday after just 60 games, the first team in the NBA to do so this season. In fact, no team has clinched a playoff berth in so few games since LeBron James’ Cavaliers did so in 2009. The Heat have also won 18 straight, the longest streak in the NBA this season, and that chatter about the Pacers being the team that could potentially stop them — well, Miami’s decisive 105-91 win over Indiana Sunday pokes some holes in that theory.
Player: Kobe Bryant, more for what’s coming out of his mouth than what he’s doing on the court. (Not that the on-court stuff has been too shabby; he’s averaging 33.2 points on 51.3 percent shooting in March.) But seriously, if there’s any silver lining to this Lakers season, it’s the level of utter honesty to which it’s driven Bryant. After his team defeated Chicago on Sunday to push itself to eighth in the West, Bryant’s response was perfect: “Oh, yippee,” he said, and rolled his eyes.
Worst of the week
Team: The 76ers, who have lost five straight and 12 of their last 13. No wonder Doug Collins is unhinged. For more, see below.
Player: Philadelphia’s Evan Turner, who shot 29.5 percent on the week, averaged 9.0 points per game and watched his team lose four straight. I could easily have bestowed this honor on his teammate Jrue Holiday, who averaged just 11.5 points on 28.6 percent shooting, and that, in two stat lines, is just the tip of the iceberg in Philadelphia.
2 points, 0:03 remaining: LeBron James hit a driving layup with three seconds remaining in the Heat’s win over the Magic on Wednesday, putting Miami up, 97-96, and sealing the win. Believe it or not, it was the first time James has scored a go-ahead basket with fewer than 10 seconds remaining in a game in his three seasons as a member of the Heat. (And though this might look like perfect ammunition for the “LeBron isn’t clutch” argument, think of it like this: how many times in a season do the Heat actually need a game-winning shot? Very few.)
24 rebounds: Brooklyn’s Reggie Evans logged his fourth 20-rebound game this season on Friday, tying Tyson Chandler for the most 20-rebound games in the NBA this season. To give an idea of how much has changed in terms of the league’s best rebounders this season, last year Dwight Howard logged 10 such games in just 54 attempts, what with the lockout-shortened season and his own injury.
67 points: The Thunder defeated the Bobcats, 116-94, on Friday, completing a season sweep of Charlotte. Well, of course they did, but what’s most notable is the fact than in two wins over the Bobcats this season, Oklahoma City has won by 67 total points, illustrating how vast the gulf is between the NBA’s best and its worst.
What we heard
“I’ll look it up on my computer as soon as I buy one.”
— Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Thursday, when asked an analytics-related question, according to a tweet from Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
“With [new management], I don’t think anybody’s comfortable. They’re rookie owners. They come in there and they want it their own way, and you can’t blame them for that. But it’s a player’s league.”
— Toronto’s Rudy Gay to Yahoo! Sports’ Mark Spears, referencing the situation he faced in Memphis before being traded Jan. 30.
“There’s a substantial variance. I have an expectation, a hope, that the variance will be eliminated by the time the owners give it consideration.”
— NBA commissioner David Stern on Friday, discussing Sacramento’s counteroffer to keep the Kings, which he said will need to increase financially before owners will even consider it. The Board of Governors will convene April 18 to vote on the sale and proposed move of the team to Seattle.
“Fear? Fear for what? Only thing I fear is bees.”
— Kobe Bryant, on fear.
“Vino was pouring it on tonight. . . . How many of these cheesy one-liners can I come up with? What the hell.”
— Kobe Bryant, being Kobe Bryant. (His new self-given nickname on Twitter is “Vino.”)
Thunder at Spurs, 8:30 p.m. ET Monday: Thunder win, and they’re tied with the Spurs for the best record in the West. Spurs win, and they’re somehow still best in the West despite being so boring no one cares about them. (That, I will never understand.) Regardless, this is must-watch television and perhaps a preview of the Western Conference Finals if San Antonio doesn’t fall apart before Tony Parker returns.