Nets-Bulls Preview

Derrick Rose has played just once since suffering back spasms in

a game against the New Jersey Nets earlier this month. Judging by

the way the Chicago Bulls finished that game and have played since,

they might not rush him back for the rematch.

Rose appears closer to returning, but it remains unclear if

he’ll be back Saturday when the Bulls go for their fifth straight

win over the woeful Nets at the United Center.

Chicago played its fourth consecutive game without Rose on

Thursday, improving to 7-2 this season without the reigning league

MVP after defeating Boston 89-80.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was more involved in Friday’s

light practice – he wasn’t able to run at Thursday’s shootaround –

but is still day to day. Thibodeau added that whether Rose comes

back Saturday depends on “how he feels,” but the Bulls want him to

be pain-free when he returns.

Rose first felt the back spasms in a 108-87 win over New Jersey

on Feb. 6, sitting out the entire second half. He played 22 minutes

against New Orleans two nights later but has not been on the court

since.

“He wants to be out there so bad,” All-Star forward Luol Deng

said. “I can see it. Everyone sees it. I keep telling him, ‘You’ve

just got to be smart.'”

Thanks to balanced scoring, Chicago (25-7) hasn’t missed Rose

too much. On Thursday, Deng had 23 points and at least 10 assists

for the second straight game, Carlos Boozer added 23 points with 15

rebounds and C.J. Watson, starting in Rose’s place, scored 11.

“I think we’re all confident in our abilities, but we know that

we’re not getting to where we want to go without that guy,” said

Joakim Noah, who has four double-doubles in his last five

games.

Noah tied a season high with 16 rebounds Thursday as the Bulls

had a 52-37 edge on the glass, including 16-6 on the offensive

boards. Chicago leads the Eastern Conference with 45.1 rebounds per

game.

It seems the Bulls, who have won seven of eight and own the

league’s best record, would be fine without Rose for this matchup.

They’re 11-1 at home and have won 18 straight overall against teams

which currently have losing records, including easy victories in

both matchups with New Jersey (8-23).

Chicago shot a combined 56.5 percent in those two wins. With

Rose playing less than 11 minutes in the last meeting, Boozer

scored 24 points while Deng had 19 as the Bulls posted their fourth

straight win in the series.

The Nets have lost four straight and eight of nine at the United

Center, and they return to Chicago having dropped eight in a row

overall. They haven’t had a longer losing streak since an 11-game

skid from Jan. 2-23, 2010.

New Jersey (8-23) is coming off a 93-88 loss at Indiana on

Thursday, blowing a double-digit lead for the second straight

game.

“We had them down 10 early,” said Deron Williams, who scored 12

of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “We just have to learn to

put our foot on teams.”

Williams is averaging 25.8 points over the last six games for

the Nets, who have not scored more than 92 in six of their last

seven games.

Kris Humphries had 24 points and 10 rebounds Thursday after

averaging 9.8 points in the previous five games. He hasn’t been

much of a factor in the two meetings with Chicago, averaging 8.5

points and 7.5 boards.