Bulls-Celtics Preview

The Chicago Bulls have had no trouble thoroughly overpowering

inferior opponents with Derrick Rose hampered by a sore back.

Considering the way things went in Boston a month ago, the Bulls

will likely need their leading scorer and reigning league MVP on

the court for Sunday’s matchup with the Celtics to push their

winning streak to six.

Rose is uncertain if he’ll play in the finale of Chicago’s

nine-game, 15-day road trip after sitting out Friday’s 95-64 win

over Charlotte.

“I really don’t know,” Rose said before Saturday’s practice.

“When I wake up, I usually can tell. I’ll probably know by the time

I wake up.”

Although Friday was the first time Rose was sidelined because of

back pain, he had played limited minutes in the Bulls’ previous two

games, combining for 10 points and six assists in easy wins over

New Jersey and New Orleans.

Despite getting nominal production from its leader, Chicago

(23-6) hasn’t missed a beat.

With Friday’s easy victory, the Bulls became the first team ever

to win four consecutive road games by at least 20 points. These

games have been decided early, with Chicago outscoring its last

four opponents by an average of 14.5 first-quarter points.

“Our depth is our greatest strength right now,” said Joakim

Noah, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds against the Bobcats.

“Obviously we know that we need everybody healthy (come playoffs).

This is definitely not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Although the Bulls, owners of the league’s best record, are

mindful of their long-term goal, they would certainly like to have

Rose in uniform against a Boston team smarting from a pair of

disappointing losses.

Chicago won the first meeting 88-79 on Jan. 13 in Boston thanks

to Rose’s big fourth quarter. With the Bulls up one with 10 minutes

remaining, Rose, playing with a sprained left big toe, scored

Chicago’s next seven points and the Celtics never got closer than

five.

Although Rose carried Chicago down the stretch, he wasn’t the

only Bull to frustrate the Celtics, as Luol Deng finished with 21

points and 16 rebounds.

Deng has been one of several Bulls to step up while Rose has

been hurting, averaging 15.3 points in the last four games after

missing the previous seven with a torn ligament in his left

wrist.

Defense has also been key in Chicago’s last four games, with the

team allowing an average of 77.0 points and 37.8 percent

shooting.

While the Bulls are playing superbly despite their star being

slowed, the Celtics (14-12) are suddenly in a little funk.

After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers by one point in overtime

Thursday, Boston looked lifeless a night later against lowly

Toronto, never leading in an 86-74 loss. The Celtics, who had won

nine of ten before Thursday’s defeat, dropped back-to-back games

for the first time since a five-game skid Jan. 6-16.

“We just didn’t show the mental toughness,” Paul Pierce said.

“We feel like we’re getting so close to being the team we want to

be and to take a couple of steps back is definitely frustrating.

These are games we’re supposed to win.”

Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo all struggled against the

Raptors, combining for 23 points on 9-of-29 shooting.

The Celtics fell to 1-10 when scoring 88 points or fewer, which

doesn’t bode well against a Chicago team that allows an average of

86.9 points.