For the Chicago Bulls, as Derrick Rose goes, so go the Bulls. Many would also include Luol Deng in that belief. If that's the case, is coach Tom Thibodeau recklessly playing them meaningless minutes now, exposing them to both injury and exhaustion?
Fans had to have seen the season flash before their eyes when Rose went down hard on his elbow after being fouled with 3:35 left on the clock against Detroit. His elbow was wrapped in ice after the game, and he might not be ready for Orlando on Friday. That might be a good thing, since he would be facing Dwight Howard.
Howard has knocked him out of games in the past with hard fouls, and his health is more important than one game.
That's something Thibs needs to get a grasp on. It seems like every game is the last game of the Finals the way he never seems to take his foot off the accelerator.
It makes no sense to burn out Rose and Deng now when the regular season is relatively meaningless for the Bulls.
Deng looked like a dog panting for water on a 90 degree day late in the game against the Pistons. He played 38 minutes after playing almost 44 the night before against Atlanta. Maybe that's why he ended up with just two points on 1-6 shooting.
Rose played the same amount of minutes in the Hawks game, and almost 40 against the Pistons.
After Rose went down, Thibodeau kept him in the game for an additional 2:23, finally pulling him out with a little over a minute left in the game.
Sometimes you might keep a guy in after a fall like Rose had to keep him from tightening up, but with so little time left, why risk something else happening to him?
Even though the Bulls didn't blow the Pistons out, they were in control the whole game and it never really seemed in doubt.
At times, Thibodeau keeps players in because he might not be happy with things and wants them to work on something. The conjecture was maybe Rose's defense was the hot button he wanted him to correct, but at what cost?
Even in a shortened season, there are still 59 games to work on whatever you need to work on.
The Bulls are off to a 6-1 start, and while they haven't always looked cohesive on the floor, there is plenty of time for them to come together. Ideally, they are running on all cylinders entering the post-season.
Last year they led the league with 62 wins, but what did that get them? They had a tough time with both Indiana and Atlanta in the playoffs, and we all know what happened against Miami.
Other teams tend to coast during the regular season and turn it up a notch come the playoffs. For the Bulls, and mainly because of Thibodeau, there is no other gear.
That's why they didn't look the same in the playoffs as they did during the regular season.
Last year was Thibodeau's first as a head coach, and while it was a successful season, it was also a learning experience for him.
The question is if he has learned what is important with his team moving forward, and a big part of that equation is keeping Rose and Deng healthy and fresh.
If this was a seldom occurrence, it would be excusable, but it's not.
Deng was one of the league leaders in minutes played last year, and Rose wasn't that far behind. Deng averaged 39.1 minutes a game, while Rose averaged 37.4. Respectively they finished fourth and 14th.
This year, Deng is second with 39.4, while Rose checks in at 10th with 36.9.
So far, it doesn't seem like the coach has learned anything from last year.
The Bulls are supposed to be one of the deepest teams in the league. If that's the case, you can afford to give your star players more rest.
It's even more important this year with so many games played in a short period of time.
Thibodeau is said to be a tireless worker who lives, breathes and eats basketball. Maybe that's why he works them so hard, but if the Bulls want to get past the Heat this year, he's going to have to ease up a bit.
It's time to treat his stars like thoroughbreds, instead of like rented mules.
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