Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 10/30/13
The prudent thing to say now, if you're the Chicago Bulls, is that the must-see NBA season opener against the champs was just one of 82, not a great crusade, not a statement game, not foreshadowing, not a hint of things to come, not a re-establishing of manhood or anything else grand ... but one measly game in an endless season. Oh, there's no sugarcoating the result. It was 12 points, the Miami Heat victory, but so much more than that. The Heat lead reached 25 when the champs -- having gorged themselves on fresh new bling and civic adoration -- essentially stopped paying attention, and the Bulls pulled, meaninglessly, within eight points after most people had left the building or fallen asleep. The Bulls couldn't buy a shot for three quarters, committed too many turnovers against an aroused Miami defense, committed too many fouls (especially) and never got into the kind of offensive probing and execution they'll need if they're to actually challenge Miami in a playoff series. Now, having said all that, so little of it matters to any great degree at this moment. The Miami Heat wanted to put on an encore championship performance and take a bow. Check. The Chicago Bulls needed to re-establish their star player, Derrick Rose, not in some purposeless dreck of a preseason scrimmage, but in a game that counted for something, against a team of consequence. Check. We already know Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is angry as hell at his team having allowed 107 points, at committing 18 turnovers (that led to 15 of those Miami points), at allowing Miami to shoot 51 percent and, even worse, 55 percent from the 3-point line. And because the Bulls play such consistently great defense these are things they'll get better at over time ... like in the 48 hours before the home opener against the New York Knicks on Thursday night. But none of that, in this moment, is as important as Rose exploding through the entire Miami defense and finishing with great extension with his left hand for a signature Rose layup. It didn't matter that Rose did that last week against the Milwaukee Bucks or Denver Nuggets in the preseason; it mattered that he did it tonight, in Miami, against opponents all too happy to knock his head off. Did Rose do that enough to predict he'll be the 2014 MVP? No. Four-for-15 with five turnovers (to four assists) doesn't put you back on the All-Star team. But it was a start. You could see Derrick Rose in there, in some of those moves, in the twisting layups and fearless drives to the basket against big bodies bumping and slamming him, which doesn't happen in the preseason. There was rust, yes, but this was the start of knocking it off, and probably an OK start because of the opponent. "This was the toughest team he could have come back against," was the way teammate Luol Deng put it. "But I've seen Derrick at his best, and I know he's better than he was. His work ethic is better. His belief in himself and in his teammates is better." The Bulls players don't talk about it much and don't really need to, but there is a belief that Rose is going to be better, because he's going to be tougher, because the fairy tale was shattered last year. As one player told me, "It's the first time Derrick was hated on."
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