Derrick Rose meets LeBron James right off the bat.
Derrick Rose's return is finally near enough that we can discuss some early-season showdowns.
What are the most intriguing matchups for Rose to begin the 2013-14 campaign?
These factors will be specifically scrutinized when Rose is pitted against some notable teams and point guards, particularly in the season's beginning stages.
Here we break down the contests in which fans' eyes will be glued upon Rose's performance.
Rose's official return to the hardwood (we're not counting the preseason) will take place against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Does it get any better than this?
The Heat will raise their 2013 championship banner and receive their rings, Joakim Noah will watch with a grumpy look on his face, and then Rose will return. The Bulls should play with a chip on their shoulder. They'll be on a mission to proclaim they're Miami's biggest threat.
The intensity of this bout will be through the roof.
Rose's output on this evening will be analyzed in depth. He hasn't played in a real game since April 2012, so it wouldn't be surprising if there are some jitters and initial inefficiency.
No matter what, every move he makes will be under the microscope. Does he appear healthy? Does he look better than before? Did he drink two Gatorades and not just one?
This hyper-analysis would be the case in his first game back regardless of the opponent, but everything will be amplified because the Bulls are taking on Miami.
This season opener is beyond intriguing. It's the perfect matchup to ignite loads of excitement across the NBA landscape (it will be aired on TNT). It should set the tone for a thrilling NBA season.
One thing it will surely do is further cultivate the rivalry between Miami and Chicago. Physicality, trash talk, coach Tom Thibodeau's raspy screams and competitive fire should be on heightened display.
If Rose carries Chicago to a statement win, the NBA world will be buzzing.
Rose will have preseason games at home, but his first regular-season appearance in the United Center will occur two days after the Bulls open against Miami, when Chicago hosts the New York Knicks.
The city will be energized by Rose's first game back in the Windy City. You can count on loads of Chicagoans dressing up like Derrick Rose on this Halloween night.
Furthermore, the anticipation here will extend outside of Chicago because the Bulls meet New York and the game will once again be on TNT.
This contest should feature a playoff-like atmosphere. The Madhouse on Madison will be rocking, and the Knicks will be looking to spoil the fun.
The Knicks will genuinely be seeking an eye-opening win, to prove they're a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference and to avenge losing all four outings to the Rose-less Bulls during 2012-13.
It's doubtful that Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks will do much celebrating, though. If they can't beat Chicago when Rose isn't playing, it could get ugly when he's in uniform, especially considering the hostile environment they'll enter.
New York does not match up well against Chicago, and this will only get worse with Rose returning. Expect Rose and the Bulls to steamroll their way to victory.
The Central Division should be a war between the Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
The rivalry between these two clubs isn't overly magnified, but it definitely exists. They're both gritty, defensive-minded and possess swagger.
Plus, could they potentially both have a subtle disregard for each other, thinking that the only barrier to the NBA Finals is the Heat? Could they be quietly overlooking one another?
It's certainly possible.
From Indiana's perspective, they can highlight Chicago's irrelevancy in the past two playoffs, detailing how they're rarely healthy.
From the Bulls standpoint, there's convincing reason to believe that if Rose is active, they're assuredly better than the Pacers (simply consider Chicago's league-best winning percentage during 2010-11 and 2011-12, when Rose was typically healthy).
The arguments are valid on both sides, and it's a recipe for conflict, assuming there are such under-the-radar sentiments.
At any rate, the tension should reach new heights as these squads compete for the division crown. When they meet on Wednesday, November 6 (on ESPN), Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will be hyped.
Rose's reinsertion into Chicago's lineup ultimately gives this meeting a completely different feel. They are so similar at other positions, but Rose provides Chicago with a distinct advantage over George Hill at point guard.
They both bolster a defensive identity and should be exhibiting playoff-like tenacity, so the final score of this game could realistically be 83-78. It should be ripe with contested shots and plenty of rebounds.
The Bulls will have their hands full in this one (the Pacers were 30-11 at home during 2012-13), but Chicago does have three days off prior to this meeting. The Pacers, on the other hand, play the night before against the Detroit Pistons.
Coach Thibodeau's extra time to prepare coupled with Rose's determination to prove his worth against this foe should result in a big win for the Bulls. This would successfully cap off a challenging initial stretch for Rose and company.
D-Rose versus Kyrie Irving...it's a matchup fans should grow to love.
These two young studs have actually never played against each other. Due to injuries from both of them over the past couple of years, this compelling battle will inaugurate itself in early November.
Irving's ascent as one of the Association's marquee point guards has been a quick one. While health troubles have been frequent, his play has been dominant when he's on the floor. He has sparked needed hope for the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron's departure.
After averaging 22.5 points per game and 5.9 assists per outing in 2012-13, what's in store for his third season?
Remember, it was in Rose's third campaign that the then-22-year-old led the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins and notched the MVP award. If Irving is to keep climbing the ranks of the NBA's best, he'll need to exclaim his value against a talent like Rose.
In this November tilt, Rose should not only sway this encounter in his favor, but he should also elevate Chicago to a convincing home win. Until Irving's defense shows improvements—his opponent counterpart posted a PER of 18.1 per-48 minutes during 2012-13, per 82games.com—it's hard to foresee him adequately containing Rose.
Rose's game, assuming he's his old self and healthy, is more refined at this point than Irving's. As a result, Rose and the Bulls should consistently limit Irving and the Cavs' efficiency in 2013-14.
This Sunday afternoon showdown has layers of attraction.
First of all, Coach Thibs and new Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers have a history together. Thibs coached under Rivers with the Boston Celtics. While they've coached against each other the past few seasons, this will be their first meeting since Rivers latched on with the Clips.
Secondly, both the Bulls and Clippers are legitimate contenders, so this should shape up to be a dandy.
Lastly, the point guard matchup between Rose and Chris Paul should be nothing short of entertaining. It's the chief reason for intrigue in this late-November clash.
Rose and Paul have only played against each other once since Paul joined the Clippers in 2011, and the Bulls won this outing, 114-101. Check out the stat lines for Rose and Paul:
Yes, one game is a small sample size, but this serves as undeniable evidence that Rose is more than capable of outplaying Paul, an All-NBA first-team selection the past two seasons.
This will be a difficult win for the Bulls (the Clips were 32-9 at home during 2012-13) because it comes amid a West Coast swing and will be their third road game in four days.
One thing is for sure: The competitiveness of Rose and Paul should be spotlighted on this Sunday afternoon. Perhaps this will even foreshadow what's to come in the 2014 NBA Finals.