Derrick Rose makes the most anticipated Chicago Bulls comeback since Michael Jordan slipped on a No. 45 jersey tonight against defending NBA Champions the Miami Heat. After spending all of last season rehabbing from the ACL tear he suffered in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, Rose is ready for his first meaningful action in a year and a half.
So, Derrick Rose, what’s your mindset as you head into your first game in 18 months?
"Just having fun," Rose told the media before Tuesday’s shootaround. "It's a regular game to me. Going out here, doing something. I've been missing this game for a whole year, so [I'm] coming out here enjoying myself and playing this game that I love playing."
Anyone who’s watched enough of his games would tell you that Rose’s love of the sport shines through. The 2010-2011 league MVP, his elegant yet fearless style is like a sonnet to the creativity and individual expression basketball allows. Which is why the criticism he caught for failing to return to the Bulls last season after he had been medically cleared to play seemed both unfair and wrongheaded; whether getting his teammates involved or creating a shot out of nothing, no one plays basketball with more joie de vivre than Rose.
Frighteningly for opponents, the 25-year-old star says that he’s actually improved in his time off from the game.
"I think I'm way better as a player," Rose said as a cold shiver of terror shot down the spines of rival Eastern Conference guards. "My IQ has gotten higher and just the way that I play I think I'm a more efficient player. And my teammates allow me to play the way I normally play, so that's a blessing."
His numbers in the preseason seem to back that up. Extrapolating his stats over 48 minutes, his 39.5 points would have lead the league in that category last season and his preseason average of 9.8 free throw attempts per game (in just 26.3 minutes) would have been second.
The Bulls will need Rose to look like his old self (or better) if they hope to unseat the Miami Heat as Eastern Conference champs. Without Rose, last season’s matchups between the teams -- including the Bulls five-game loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals -- were characterized by scrappiness that occasionally boiled over to enmity. Following Monday’s practice, Heat star LeBron James told the media, "We don't like them, they don't like us. We all know how it is."
"They've got something that we want, so we can't hold back," Rose said of the Heat on Tuesday. "They have great players on their team. They're trying to three-peat. They've won two already, so there's a little bit of a rivalry there."
The Bulls, who won a playoff series without Rose last year, seem confident that they can push past Miami this season and bring Chicago it’s first basketball title since Jordan’s return.
“I think we're a totally different team where all the guys are focused in and everyone knows their role," Rose said of this year’s squad. "Even the rookies, they're acting like professionals when they come in. So we have a great chance to contend for a title."