The Chicago Bulls are four games behind the feisty Indiana Pacers in the Central Division, and they aren't going to close that gap unless star point guard Derrick Rose makes his return this season, and soon.
Unfortunately, Rose is hesitant to get back on the floor due to hamstring issues, further delaying his return from a torn ACL suffered during last season's playoffs. Though it is important for him to take his time with his recovery, his immediate return would do wonders for the Bulls in the division race.
Look at it this way. Tough defense and players stepping up their efforts helped Chicago to stay atop the Central Division for the first six weeks of the season and then bounce back and forth up until February, at that point, the wheels fell off.
Since then, the Bulls have gone 7-11 and their offensive weaknesses have been exposed. Despite ranking sixth in rebounding and third in points allowed, the team is just 29th in points scored. There is no leader on the floor, and that can instantly change with Rose back in the lineup.
Since Rose debuted back in 2008, Chicago has gone 10-5 against Indiana when he is in the lineup, plus a 4-1 playoff series victory. This season, the team's fortunes have not been as fruitful.
The Pacers have defeated the Bulls in all three of their games against each other this season, thanks to tougher defense and the emergence of the dynamic Paul George. With Round 4 coming on March 23, one can see how important a Rose return could be in the immediate future.
This is because Indiana is the best rebounding team in the league and second in points allowed. Granted, Rose wouldn't be able to do much in the rebounding department by any means, but consider that the Pacers rank 25th in points scored, not much better than Chicago.
Can the Bulls win the Central Division with an immediate Derrick Rose Return?
Against them and other teams, Rose would be able to use his natural ability to drive the lane and penetrate defenses and be a scoring force for a team that so desperately needs help in that area. Only seven of the team's remaining games are against squads that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, so having Rose back in the lineup could easily lead to a hot streak that ends with a division crown.
That isn't to say the Pacers are absolutely screwed. Only nine of their remaining games are against playoff teams, and their balanced attack and incredible defense gives them a strong chance at winning in any game.
But the fact of the matter is that Rose's history against the Pacers speaks for itself, even if Indiana is a different team now than it was a few years ago. The man knows how to get the best of this team, and a victory over them to go with a hot streak would provide the Bulls with plenty of momentum down the stretch.
With the playoffs on the horizon, the man had better right his hamstring issues and get back on the floor for a team that so desperately needs him at this point in the season.