- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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I have moved past the stage where I cringe every time Derrick Rose drives the lane. I have stopped looking for Dwight Howard to swoop in and swat him to the floor, which was happening whether the Chicago Bulls were playing the Orlando Magic or not.
I am not proposing we pack Rose in bubble wrap, though actually that might not be such a bad idea. But with the Magic back in town Friday night and Rose ailing, it really did beg the question of whether the Bulls' star, MVP candidate and civic treasure is pushing too hard and might not benefit from some carefully selected rest.
Of course you will never get Rose to say this, which is one of the reasons Bulls fans adore him and one reason he is the elite player he is, proving it once again in the Bulls' 99-90 victory with his 22 points, 12 assists and six rebounds under obvious distress.
Looking gaunt Friday morning at shootaround and admitting he may have lost five or six pounds from eating next to nothing the past three days since being diagnosed with two ulcers, Rose still was all but promising he would play Friday night.
It is also clear, however, that he would sooner give up Gummy Bears for life than ever say he wants to sit out a basketball game.
"I never want to rest," he said. "As long as I can play, I'm fine. Right now, things are hard but hopefully I'll get over it."
Thing is, it's not just the stomach. This season alone, there has been a nickfest of sore toe, sprained ankle, bruised hip and elbow, neck spasms and sore back, which he said was "killing" him three days ago.
While Rose has learned to better control and protect himself as he catapults his body up and down the court, that doesn't mean the Bulls shouldn't protect him, too.
First-year Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gets the minutes question almost daily about Rose, and Thibodeau is not a guy who does not think things through. Winning or losing tonight, tomorrow, next week can make the difference between a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed in April. With the division all but wrapped up, the Bulls do not want to look back then and regret that one close loss at home in late January.
Plus, Thibodeau is an NBA coach, which means that assuming the ulcers will not be more than a short-term issue, he views Rose's bumps and bruises, while certainly significant, as nothing unusual in a long season.
"I think you prepare yourself for this," Thibodeau said. "This is the NBA season. The good players and great players in this league, that's what they prepare all summer for, so they can handle the grind of the season. And to Derrick's credit, I think he did that. This summer he was in great shape. He came to camp in great shape. So I think it's helped him a ton."
Thibodeau credited Rose, who is averaging 38 minutes per game, with keeping himself in "great shape" by monitoring his rest when he's on his own. And by his third season, you would expect that from Rose, just as you would expect a similarly compelling argument from him for why he should not take time off.
"It helps you in the long run to where you go back to the days where you played in tough situations and played through tough things like when you're sick and stuff, and you know you can get past that day or things can't get any harder," he explained.
Friday night will undoubtedly be one of those situations and no telling how important this victory was.
After he hit the rookie wall two years ago, which frankly was more of a soft bounce, "you're good," Rose said, "you get used to it. And the days you don't feel like it, you find things that get you motivated."
Playing against Howard, Gilbert Arenas and the Magic was enough motivation in itself. But that said, Friday night seemed to set up as a perfect night for Rose to sit out. Already weak from his stomach ordeal, facing a team that had already beaten the Bulls by a huge margin and playing without Joakim Noah, it seemed Rose could have been given a break.
Clearly, executing this plan is not going to be easy. But then, pacing him occasionally in practice is another option.
"I think Derrick Rose has surpassed Deron Williams as the best point guard in the NBA and I think, right now, he has to be the front-runner for MVP," Charles Barkley said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I just hope they don't wear [him] down."
While Bulls veteran Kurt Thomas agreed with Thibodeau that it's the way of the NBA to grind it out -- "You want a guy to keep his routine going and stay on top of keeping fundamentally sound" -- he also conceded "it's a give and take."
And when asked if it was a bit scary to consider playing without Rose and Noah, Thomas sure didn't seem scared.
"That's why we have C.J. Watson," he said. "He has been solid for us all year long, and the one game Derrick did miss, C.J. stepped in and scored 30 that night [against Denver on Nov. 27, when Rose was out with neck spasms]. So we don't have a problem. We know we have guys on this team who can step up and fill those voids."
It's possible that, as Bulls fans, we want to treat Rose with kid gloves because at 22, he is still closer to a kid than he is to his late 20s. Also because he's our kid, and we're still getting used to the fact we're actually lucky enough to have him, a bona-fide superstar in a Bulls uniform.
But then again, maybe that's precisely why they should be so careful.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
14hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
14hMatt Walks, ESPN.com