By Philip Rossman-Reich
ORLANDO, Fla. — Derrick Rose has never really been in this situation before.
During his sometimes stellar, sometimes frustrating eight-year career with the Bulls, Rose has never had a season where his team missed the playoffs. In every year he has finished the season, Rose has played in the playoffs.
It is an odd place then for Rose to sit in front of his locker before and after a game in early March and see his team staring up at the playoffs. With the Bulls' twin losses in Florida, the team now sits a half game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Yet, after a 102-89 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at the Amway Center, the Bulls feel a little emptier. This Bulls team has problems that are completely foreign to a franchise that has made the playoffs for seven straight years and 10 of the last 11.
“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Rose said. “I can’t. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through this. All this is new to me. Just trying to figure things out. Thoughts, plays, everything is going everywhere. But we’ve got to figure it out.”
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In the final 22 games, the Bulls will have every opportunity to make their case and make up that ground.
Jimmy Butler will return from his injury, as will Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Whether that will be enough to straighten out a defense that went from elite to frustrating within a season is the question. Even so, it is not like the Bulls are losing too much ground either.
Right now, though, teams know the Bulls are struggling, and they are looking to pounce from the tip and burying them.
“Pride is always on the line every night you go out there 82 games a year,” Mike Dunleavy said. “Whether you are up 20 or down 20, your pride should always be on the line. This is a pretty solid group of guys. We’ll get this thing figured out. I’m pretty confident of that.”
After losing two games on this Florida road trip by double digits, it is easy to sense the frustration. Everyone is reacting to this reality in their own way.
How they respond will ultimately decide whether they make the playoffs or not.
“Even to be behind from the beginning of the year, before we even started our goals and everything: Are we trying to get into the playoffs?” Rose said. “We have to ask these questions. We just have to come out here and play. Our actions should be everything.”