The Cleveland Cavaliers can’t fare much worse with Rose in Chicago’s lineup than they did when he wasn’t.
The Bulls handed Cleveland the most lopsided home loss in franchise history six weeks ago with Rose in street clothes, but they’ll have the MVP on Friday night as they return to Quicken Loans Arena looking for a fifth consecutive victory.
Rose’s health has been just about the only concern for Chicago (29-8) in the season’s first half, but the team has won all four games since he returned after missing five with a strained lower back.
The latest victory was easily the most impressive of that bunch, 96-89 in San Antonio on Wednesday, but it didn’t come without a few anxious moments. Rose banged knees with Spurs guard Tony Parker in the first quarter and was down for several minutes, but he never came out and finished with a game-high 29 points.
Rose, who said the initial pain from the hit quickly subsided, was simply happy to have three more quarters against Parker.
“Playing every point guard on the planet is fun, where I love the challenge,” said Rose, averaging 25.0 points since his return.
This could be Rose’s first chance to face Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving, who, like him, was the top overall pick of an NBA draft. But Irving missed Friday’s shootaround with an illness and is considered a game-time decision Friday.
A toe injury kept Rose on the sidelines when Chicago visited Cleveland on Jan. 20, but the Bulls certainly didn’t miss him. Luol Deng had 21 points and Carlos Boozer finished with 19 and 14 rebounds in Chicago’s 114-75 rout.
That effort led Cavaliers coach Byron Scott to rip into his team.
“Chicago was aggressive and physical and the more (shots) they hit, the more we took steps back,” he said. “We didn’t react to their physical play whatsoever - besides the whining. You can not let a good team like they are come in and play harder, be more physical, more aggressive and expect to win or even be in the game.”
Scott shared some similar frustration after his team’s latest performance. Cleveland (13-20) led New York by as many as 17 in the second quarter Wednesday night and took a 12-point lead into halftime, but collapsed with 16 second-half turnovers in a 120-103 loss.
“They came out more aggressive and we melted,” Scott said. “… We didn’t do a good job taking care of the ball and we didn’t do a good job of attacking. If they’re going to be aggressive like that, we need to be aggressive back and I don’t think we were.”
The Cavaliers hit triple digits for just the third time in 21 games, but sniffing 100 again won’t be easy. The Bulls have given up an average of 82.0 points in their last six away from the United Center.
That’s the same average they’ve allowed in the five meetings with Cleveland since LeBron James left, winning each one to extend their regular-season series winning streak to six.
Irving had 22 on Wednesday, just the third time in nine games Cleveland has lost when he’s scored that many. He had 13 in the first meeting with Chicago, and the Cavaliers are 6-15 when he scores 21 or fewer.
Including the playoffs, Rose has averaged 24.4 points in his last five games in Cleveland. Boozer, meanwhile, has scored at least 19 while posting four straight double-doubles against his former team.