Derrick Rose may not be back on the court until he feels his knee is fully healthy, but his return to the Chicago Bulls lineup would be the start of the team going on an instant hot streak. The team has performed well this season, but the lack of scoring and what Rose could bring in that department means endless possibilities for the team out of the Windy City.
Rose may not be back this season, but that has not stopped him from participating in five-on-five drills. As reported by an eyewitness to Chris Broussard of ESPN, the 2011 MVP and former No. 1 pick looked "ready to go" in practice.
While having him back at 100 percent is vitally important, perhaps the Bulls should insert Rose into the lineup on a minutes limit. This way, he can gradually work his way back into game shape and not be completely shocked and overwhelmed as he could be in a delayed return to the court.
The facts are simple. As good as Chicago has been this season, the presence of Rose has been missed. Sure, the team went 18-9 without Rose during the regular season last year, but still managed to play well knowing that he was coming back at some point.
This season, the team has only been able to do so much in that regard. The Bulls have played great defense and rank fifth in rebounding as well as third in points allowed, but are just 27th in points scored. Clearly, Rose's career marks of 21 points and 6.8 assists per game are sorely missed.
The sad truth is that in a gritty defensive system like Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's, the point guard is vitally important on offense. Just look at the Boston Celtics, who run a similar style. The team may be playing well without Rajon Rondo, but the lack of a solid floor general will ultimately come back to haunt them.
Such has been the case for the Bulls. Defense may win championships, but that effort is meaningless without offense to complement it.
Getting Rose back in the lineup at a gradual pace would provide the Bulls with just enough offensive spark to close out the regular season, and perhaps make some noise in the playoffs. Fortunately, the team's schedule could allow that.
Of the Bulls' 29 remaining games, only 10 are against top-tier playoff teams. All the rest are against either low-seeded playoff squads or teams that will end up in the draft lottery. If Rose returns and the Lakers can win, say, 18 of those 29 and close out the season on a winning streak, then their playoff chances would instantly improve.
This is all about concept of the hottest team. The theory is that in a playoff series, whichever team is better is meaningless. It's all about which team gets hot at the right time and can ride the momentum the longest.
This was seen in 2011, when the Dallas Mavericks shot and fought their way to an NBA championship over the heavily favored Miami Heat, and was seen again last year when Miami clamped down on defense on its own title run.
This type of streak is within reach for the Chicago Bulls, but only if Rose comes back. Otherwise, the team will be forced to enter the playoffs with a point guard corps of glorified shooter Kirk Hinrich and the hit-or-miss Nate Robinson, neither of whom have the leadership skills nor the abilities of Rose.
The former Memphis Tiger is the key to the Bulls' success, but they won't see any this year unless he comes back to the lineup and gets them on the streak they need to enter the playoffs as a team to watch.