Rose is where Love would like to be

Rose is where Love would like to be

Published Jan. 10, 2012 10:31 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — The game was almost an afterthought,
and the size of the Timberwolves' loss was anyone's educated guess. What the
fans came to see Tuesday night at Target Center, the real show, were the
youngest of NBA superstars, the next generation of talent that makes any ticket
worth its price.

Derrick Rose and Kevin Love were what mattered, the reason to watch a 111-100
Minnesota loss to the Chicago Bulls. Each is the face of his team, a young
leader, but in the years since they were drafted just minutes apart in 2008,
the two players have followed divergent paths.

Picked first, Rose went to his hometown team, rich in basketball tradition, but
coming off a series of mediocre years. Chosen fifth, Love landed in Minnesota,
with less tradition and more mediocrity in its recent past. Both 23-year-olds
have delivered on the early promise their teams recognized in them, but Rose
has helped to transform the Bulls back into competitors. Love, for all his
spectacular numbers and the respect he commands from opponents, hasn't seen
that turnaround yet.

The difference so far may lie in the other four players on the court. Rose has
learned to rely on his teammates — more this year than ever — while Love has
at times been a one-man show. In fact, Rose's numbers are down so far this
season. He's averaging 19.7 points per game, compared to 25 last year, but for
the Bulls that's a good thing.

"We needed him to score last year," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of
his league MVP point guard. "Derrick's grown quite a bit. He'll do
whatever's necessary for us to win, so some nights he has to do more scoring
than others."

A more mature Rose is double-teamed nightly, and he's learned to rely on his
teammates in those situations, which Thibodeau calls easy offense. When Love,
an All-Star power forward, is double-teamed, he doesn't have the safety net of
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng alongside him.

The Timberwolves have grown accustomed to Love's numbers. Twenty-five points in
a night is nothing out of the ordinary. His excellence is a foregone
conclusion. But even after watching Love fill the box score night after night
after night — or perhaps because they've learned to recognize something
special — Love's teammates are in awe of Rose. He's the fastest player Ricky
Rubio has played against, maybe even the best all around. Iin Derrick Williams'
eyes, Rose is one of the best players in the world, a complete threat who can
basically do anything.

"He's very, very quick, and he's very explosive," Timberwolves coach
Rick Adelman said of Rose. "He can get to the basket. He creates a lot of
opportunities for his teammates."

The Chicago point guard had the edge over Love on Tuesday, scoring 31 points to
Love's 20 and turning to 3’s when the Timberwolves tried to contain him inside.

Only Rose could make a 20-point night look mundane.

That's not to say Love didn't impress, though. He was silent in the first
quarter, and 13 of his points came in the second quarter when the Timberwolves
powered their way back into an unreachable game. Sinking 3’s and making his
team look like a legitimate competitor, Love stole the spotlight from Rose for
part of the game.

Thibodeau, who said it takes a whole team to stop Love, was far from surprised.

"You can see his confidence," Thibodeau said. "He's an
all-around player. He's getting to the line nine times a game. He's obviously
much more comfortable with his three. Now he's taking five 3’s a game, shooting
over 40 percent."

It's true, Love is confident. He believes in himself, but more important,
there's a confidence in his team that's creeping into his periphery. Of course
he's tired of these closer-than-they-should-be losses, these moral victories on
a 3-7 team. But he must have noticed that the 9-2 Bulls are bigger than just
Rose. Love must recognize that his team, too, is improving, with rookies
providing the potential to be his Boozer and his Deng, his weapons against the
double team.

It's an uncertain, hopeful kind of confidence, but it's there.

Rose and the Bulls are contenders. Love and the Timberwolves are not, at least
not yet. But there's always the hope that in a few seasons, with time and
growth, the two stars might not be in such different places as they are today.

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