In the immortal yet overused words of Terrell Owens, get your popcorn ready.
For Derrick Rose, that is.
The one-time league MVP and one of the NBA's best point guards is inching closer to a return to a lineup that has been treading water since he went down in the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite all the flash and high praise for the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls find themselves just 3.5 games out in the Eastern Conference, and just a half-game behind the Central Division leading Indiana Pacers.
When Rose returns, he will be the spark both offensively and defensively for a team that has lost a little bit of its mojo. That's right—Rose will have this team back to top-three status.
If you haven't heard earlier reports from Wednesday, Rose is back in the gym and even showing off a little bit. As Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago reported, Rose is taking after local legend Michael Jordan and showing off his ability to get above the rim:
Derrick Rose is dunking again. Nothing spectacular, but still a good sign. "I've seen a few flushes here and there," Jimmy Butler said.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) January 9, 2013
It's the kind of news that makes the city of Chicago collectively hold its breath. Not only is Rose's progress magnificent in its own right, but it also signals that his return is probably going to be sometime very soon. It's been roughly eight months since his horrific ACL tear, and that timetable would signal he's relatively close to action.
But that doesn't matter. At least, it doesn't matter just yet.
This team is hitting its stride at the right time, and if the inspired play continues, Rose will be joining the team to make it even better—not to save it from disaster.
Part of that resurgence is from the man fans love to hate: Carlos Boozer. The second-highest-paid man on the team is having a career stretch of games, as noted by ESPN's Ernest Tolden earlier on Wednesday.
He's averaging over 27 points and 11 rebounds over his past three games, and has a chance to post six straight double-doubles when the Bulls take on Milwaukee this week.
It shouldn't be any surprise that the Bulls are 3-0 during that span, including a seven-point win over Miami last Friday and a win over Cleveland by 28.
It's been this way since Boozer arrived in 2010: When he plays well, the team usually plays well behind him.
He's not the only one chipping in. Nate Robinson and Luol Deng have kept scoring the ball at a consistent pace while Rose recuperates, and Joakim Noah has been solidifying his spot as one of the league's steady centers.
Imagine this team when Rose comes back.
This group is older, wiser and has a chip on its shoulder after the embarrassing series loss to Philadelphia last season. There's younger pieces in place that can contribute, including Jimmy Butler and rookie Marquis Teague, and don't count out midseason addition Daequan Cook from adding what he does best—the three-pointer.
Simply put, this is a team that is coming off two straight seasons of 50-plus wins in the regular season. It has held the No. 1 seed both times, yet it came up short in the playoffs.
When Rose finally does return (whenever that might be), he'll enter coach Tom Thibodeau's lineup and help make the team better, especially if the unit continues to play like it has over the last three contests.
The last thing Rose needs is the weight of Chicago on his shoulders again. The Bulls play better when they are sharing the ball anyway, and there's no need to rush Rose into a starring role just yet.
Come April and playoff time, this will be the same Chicago team that will strike fear into the rest of the Eastern Conference, and just maybe the entire NBA.
It all hinges on Rose.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
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