OAKLAND, Calif. – Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls T-shirt was drenched in sweat after a 70-plus minute pregame workout at Oracle Arena last Friday night. He looked physically strong during the exercises.
"I'm feeling healthy, man," Rose told Yahoo! Sports afterward. "That's the only thing that matters."
But what matters now is Rose's mental confidence in his surgically repaired left knee, which is critical for Rose before he pushes for clearance to make his season debut.
When will that be? There isn't a target date, but Rose is "at the end of the tunnel" of his rehab, according to a source.
[Watch: Heat win 22nd straight]
Rose hasn't played since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 28. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says the franchise is not pressuring Rose to return. A source close to Rose seconded that statement.
"This kid has done everything to come back," Thibodeau told Yahoo! Sports. "When he is ready, he'll be ready and we will know. He is getting closer. We don't want him out there unless he's completely comfortable. He's handled his part great. Everyone has to remain patient, let him work through it and he's going to be fine."
Rose has not shot over 35 percent from 3-point range in his NBA career, but during his layoff he has spent time working on his 3-pointer and says he's more confident in it now. The right-handed shooter also has been working on his left-handed runner shot. If Rose's athleticism is close to what it was with his improved shooting, he can be even more dangerous offensively than he was before.
"I see his improvement each and every day," Thibodeau said. "And as I've told him, we've waited this long and we don't mind waiting until he is completely comfortable to play. And if that means a couple more games, five games, whatever it is. And that would be for any player, we don't want to put someone out there that is not comfortable with being out there."
The reigning champion Miami Heat don't appear to have strong competition in the Eastern Conference other than maybe the Indiana Pacers. But with a healthy Rose back, the Bulls are a threat. Chicago (36-29) still has time to fight for the East's second seed. The Bulls had an East-best 50-16 record during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the 76ers after Rose got hurt.
[Related: Marc Gasol uses shoe to steal ball in a game]
"You can only imagine what [Rose] would bring," teammate Carlos Boozer said. "You can't even put that into words. If you get an MVP player like him back it changes your whole outlook.
"Remember, last year before he got hurt we were thinking we were going to be the champs. We felt we had every component to be champions last year."
NCAA tournament video from Yahoo! Sports
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• WBC fans show U.S. baseball faithful how it's done
• Donte Stallworth injured when hot-air balloon hits power lines
• Georges St-Pierre shuts Nick Diaz up in UFC 158
• Interactive NCAA bracket and complete tournament coverage