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No way Derrick Rose could be watching this series - and he has had a great seat - and not be playing if he thought it was possible.
With Rose still on the shelf, the Bulls, led by indomitable center Joakim Noah, have scored some amazing wins against the Nets on their way to a 3-1 series lead and will try to close it out this evening in Brooklyn.
Doubts are unavoidable. The worst started to creep in in the aftermath of the Bulls star's brother/adviser Reggie's ill-advised comments about the Bulls not having done enough to upgrade the roster not long after the trade deadline in February. He went on to say that perhaps his brother wouldn't come back from his knee injury this season at least in part because the team didn't have a good enough chance to win a championship.
And suspicion persists that former Bull B.J. Armstrong, who was an assistant general manager to John Paxson before becoming the agent who now represents Rose, has an ax to grind. Armstrong was passed over when Paxson moved upstairs, with fellow assistant GM Gar Forman moving up to the general manager job.
The fear is that Armstrong is advising the Bulls star to sit out not because he isn't fully recovered from knee surgery but because he is disappointed with Bulls management.
There's no way that's happening. A fan can see Rose, during every timeout of the games with the Nets, right there exhorting his teammates and giving advice. Rose is nothing if not ultra-competitive. He is down in the basketball trenches, experiencing the highs and lows right along with the fans.
If Rose could play without what he believes to be unreasonable risk of re-injury, he would be playing, no doubt. His seat at the end of the bench is too good. His teammates' maximum effort is all up in his face.
And this isn't just about Rose; it is about human, competitive nature. If Rose could somehow relocate to a luxury box to take this all in, perhaps something else other than his health and recovery could come into play as he envisioned his return. But he's on the bench and he has refused to rule himself out for the playoffs.
And that's enough about the guy who isn't playing.
As for the guys who are, well, they stand on the cusp of an awesome playoff triumph. Noah continues to amaze. If he can play 40 minutes and amass a double-double despite playing in obvious pain on Saturday afternoon, who knows what else might be possible. The center, who has been hobbling around on an injured foot for months now, is true grit on the basketball court, as his 15 points and 13 rebounds would attest.
The Bulls pulled out the triple-overtime, 142-134 victory (the 276 combined points almost doubled the total from the previous contest, a Bulls 79-76 slog of a win a few days prior) thanks in largest part of course to the heroics of Nate Robinson. It has been well-reported that he scored 34 huge points in only 28 minutes of playing time but what was almost better were a couple huge assists he contributed down the stretch.
The Bulls will almost certainly need to return to their lockdown defensive ways tonight if they are to finish off the Nets. It will be especially difficult to do if Kirk Hinrich can't go - it appears that the only part of his body that wasn't injured during the regular season (I exaggerate, but only a little) is now barking something fierce and he may or may not be able to return to action this evening.
But does anyone want to bet against them?
Empire State of Mind
* Times: After Triply Hard Loss, Nets Must Find Heart To Stay With Bulls.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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