Derrick Rose has played just once since suffering back spasms in a game against the New Jersey Nets earlier this month. Judging by the way the Chicago Bulls finished that game and have played since, they might not rush him back for the rematch.
Rose appears closer to returning, but it remains unclear if he'll be back Saturday when the Bulls go for their fifth straight win over the woeful Nets at the United Center.
Chicago played its fourth consecutive game without Rose on Thursday, improving to 7-2 this season without the reigning league MVP after defeating Boston 89-80.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was more involved in Friday's light practice - he wasn't able to run at Thursday's shootaround - but is still day to day. Thibodeau added that whether Rose comes back Saturday depends on "how he feels," but the Bulls want him to be pain-free when he returns.
Rose first felt the back spasms in a 108-87 win over New Jersey on Feb. 6, sitting out the entire second half. He played 22 minutes against New Orleans two nights later but has not been on the court since.
"He wants to be out there so bad," All-Star forward Luol Deng said. "I can see it. Everyone sees it. I keep telling him, 'You've just got to be smart.'"
Thanks to balanced scoring, Chicago (25-7) hasn't missed Rose too much. On Thursday, Deng had 23 points and at least 10 assists for the second straight game, Carlos Boozer added 23 points with 15 rebounds and C.J. Watson, starting in Rose's place, scored 11.
"I think we're all confident in our abilities, but we know that we're not getting to where we want to go without that guy," said Joakim Noah, who has four double-doubles in his last five games.
Noah tied a season high with 16 rebounds Thursday as the Bulls had a 52-37 edge on the glass, including 16-6 on the offensive boards. Chicago leads the Eastern Conference with 45.1 rebounds per game.
It seems the Bulls, who have won seven of eight and own the league's best record, would be fine without Rose for this matchup. They're 11-1 at home and have won 18 straight overall against teams which currently have losing records, including easy victories in both matchups with New Jersey (8-23).
Chicago shot a combined 56.5 percent in those two wins. With Rose playing less than 11 minutes in the last meeting, Boozer scored 24 points while Deng had 19 as the Bulls posted their fourth straight win in the series.
The Nets have lost four straight and eight of nine at the United Center, and they return to Chicago having dropped eight in a row overall. They haven't had a longer losing streak since an 11-game skid from Jan. 2-23, 2010.
New Jersey (8-23) is coming off a 93-88 loss at Indiana on Thursday, blowing a double-digit lead for the second straight game.
"We had them down 10 early," said Deron Williams, who scored 12 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. "We just have to learn to put our foot on teams."
Williams is averaging 25.8 points over the last six games for the Nets, who have not scored more than 92 in six of their last seven games.
Kris Humphries had 24 points and 10 rebounds Thursday after averaging 9.8 points in the previous five games. He hasn't been much of a factor in the two meetings with Chicago, averaging 8.5 points and 7.5 boards.