CHICAGO (AP) — Derrick Rose has no interest in looking back, in discussing what might have been.
All that matters is that the Chicago Bulls open the playoffs at home Saturday against Milwaukee and he expects to be in the lineup.
It will be a moment three years in the making. Not since the 2012 playoff opener has Rose appeared in a postseason game, and not since the 2011 Eastern Conference finals have the Bulls had their hometown star for the duration of their run.
“It’ll be fun,” Rose said. “It’ll give me a chance to go out here and battle with my teammates in the playoffs. The playoffs is a different atmosphere, a different type of setting. I get the opportunity to play the game that I love playing. The intensity is going to be definitely high. I can’t wait to play.”
Does he wonder what might have been had he been healthy the past few years?
“Can’t think about that,” Rose said. “I let that go years ago. (I’m) living in the present and that’s where I’m trying to keep things.”
Still, it’s hard not to wonder if the Bulls would have emerged from the Eastern Conference at least once and maybe captured their first championship since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era had their standout point guard not suffered season-ending injuries to both knees.
After all, they had the No. 1 overall playoff seed in back-to-back seasons and Rose at his explosive best.
He became the youngest MVP in NBA history while leading the Bulls to 62 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011. The Bulls lost to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in five games, but the following season, they looked like they were poised to make another big run.
That notion came crashing down as Rose crumbled to the court late in Game 1 of the first-round series against Philadelphia. It happened just as he seemed to be rounding into form after missing 27 games in a lockout-shortened season.
Rose had 23 points and nine assists and was performing more like a reigning MVP when he was injured with about 1:20 left in a lopsided victory. The Bulls also lost Joakim Noah to a sprained ankle later in the series and wound up bowing out in the first round.
Chicago expected to get Rose back the following year, but that never happened. And his long-awaited comeback ended at 10 games last season when Rose tore the meniscus in his right knee.
Without Rose, the Bulls were the plucky team that was always going to try hard but in no way challenge the Heat for supremacy in the East let alone win a championship. They lost in the second round to Miami in 2013 and got knocked out in the first round by Washington last season.
“You always reminisce,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “Every year, we reminisce about ‘what if.’ We talk about this all the time. It’s frustrating. You have to think about the times we were right there and we were just a little bit short.”
The Bulls believe they are loaded this time with Rose back and Pau Gasol in the mix. They expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference title, and they have a chance to make it happen in the playoffs after a challenging regular season.
There were injuries and minutes restrictions placed on Rose and Noah. The inconsistent Bulls earned the third seed at 50-32, but they expect most if not all their key players to be available.
Their starting five of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Gasol and Noah should be ready for Saturday’s game, a rarity for Chicago this season. The Bulls went with that lineup just 22 times this season, winning 17.
That certainly bodes well for them even if Rose remains a bit of a question mark.
Rose averaged 17.7 points, but the aggression has been lacking at times. His field-goal percentage (40.5) is the second-lowest of his career after shooting 35.4 percent over 10 games last year.
He recently missed about six weeks following a minor operation on his right knee and sat out the second half of Wednesday’s finale against Atlanta because of soreness in his left knee. He insisted it was minor. He was also adamant about this.
“I believe I’m one of the best players in the NBA,” Rose said.
“Still,” he said.
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