A turbulent offseason isn’t going to keep Derrick Rose from playing in Tuesday’s NBA opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Rose made his preseason debut last Friday against the Mavericks, this time coming back from a fractured left orbital suffered in the first practice of training camp. To rookie coach Fred Hoiberg’s delight, Rose pushed the pace, attacked the basket and showed little hesitancy despite wearing a mask in two separate five-minute stints.
Asked what might be a realistic expectation for Rose on Tuesday night, and Hoiberg was non-committal.
“I don’t know if he’s going to have a restriction on how many minutes,” Hoiberg said, although conditioning is still a concern. “We play three in four days to start this thing off, so we’ll have to be a little more careful with him just because he hasn’t had a ton of reps out there. I don’t know exactly how many minutes, but it will be good to have him out there.”
The Bulls are very much a work in progress. Integrating Rose back into the system is priority No. 1, but a close second on Hoiberg’s to-do list should be sorting out the frontcourt rotations. It appears he likes the Pau Gasol-Nikola Mirotic pairing for spacing and offensive purposes while playing Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson together off the bench. How much time rookie Bobby Portis seizes from any of the veterans remains to be seen.
Gibson, who played all sorts of roles last season under Tom Thibodeau, said the Bulls are benefitting from the depth.
“I feel comfortable in this offense. I feel like I’m back in college playing freely,” he said Sunday. “I feel like the practices have been harder for me than the games. That’s a good sign. We’ve just really been going at it.”
The biggest adjustment may be for former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, who should still see fourth quarter minutes despite his reserve role. Given Sunday’s practice, the team’s emotional leader seems to be adapting quite well.
“He’s been awesome. He’s been our most vocal guy in practices,” Hoiberg said. “He has that group frothing at the mouth today in that second unit, so it was fun.”
The last several weeks have been dedicated to implementing Hoiberg’s offensive schemes, but that won’t prepare the Bulls for what awaits them in LeBron James on Tuesday. For what it’s worth, Hoiberg did say he and his staff watched a lot of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Cleveland in preparation.
“He’s so good, he’s a freight train at getting down the floor with the ball in his hands. He’s a great passer, he can hurt you on the glass,” Hoiberg said. “You just have to try and make him make jumpshots. You have to give up something with him.”
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Fortunately, the Bulls can rest assured that their superstars will be active as well.
“I think (Rose) is in top form,” Gibson said. “He’s been doing great in practice. I think the mask, I don’t know, I think it’s the mask. We’ve been talking a lot of trash to him, and he’s been responding well. We’ve been really getting into him, throwing so many bodies at him, and we couldn’t stop him today.”
They hope the same can be said on Tuesday night.