When Derrick Rose stepped onto the floor in Miami for Chicago’s season opener in October 2013, the hope was that the former MVP would instantly return to form after 18 months of recovery.
More than a year and another major knee injury later, he may finally be getting there.
Coming off his highest-scoring game since March 2012, Rose looks to build on what the Bulls hope is the first of many throwback performances Sunday night against Luol Deng and the Heat in South Beach.
Rose struggled in his first 10 games back from tearing his left ACL before tearing his right meniscus in late November last year and missing nearly a second full season.
He missed eight games this November due to various injuries, but he’s played the last nine for the Bulls (14-8) and is starting to resemble his old self. Two nights after scoring 23 points in 24 minutes in a 105-80 rout of Brooklyn, the 2011 MVP went for 31 in as many minutes Friday in a 115-106 victory over Portland.
“We all feel he is going to be back to the guy he was,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s official website. “He is going step by step. He has to keep building, keep attacking. When he is aggressive like that, there is no one like him.”
Last season’s opener was the only time Rose has faced the Heat (11-12) out of the last 14 in the series — including the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals — and he’ll see a far different Miami team but a familiar face in this one.
Deng is doing his best to fill LeBron James’ shoes as the Heat’s starting small forward, and this will be his second look at his old club since being traded to Cleveland in January. He struggled in the first, shooting 2 of 11 for the Cavaliers in a loss later that month before landing in Miami this summer.
Rose’s injury and Chicago’s subsequent struggles eventually paved the way for the Bulls to move the free-agent-to-be, but the point guard says he learned plenty from Deng.
“Becoming a pro, taking care of my body, little things you don’t think about,” Rose said. “He’d come in here at halftime, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For real. You don’t think about it, but as far as health-wise, that’s great. … Lu, his professional side, coming in and making sure he’s taking care of his body. I wish I had looked at him more when I was a rookie.”
Deng averaged 15.5 points and shot 61 percent in playing the final four games of Miami’s just-completed five-game trip, but it was Dwyane Wade who somewhat surprisingly helped the Heat head home with a second win. Feeling ill a few hours before tip-off, Wade mustered enough energy to drop a season-high 29 points with seven assists Friday in a 100-95 win over Utah.
“He dug deep tonight. We all just appreciated that he was just out there with his spirit but then to have a game like that was tremendous,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Now the Heat are back home for eight of their next nine, though they’re just 4-6 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
They might catch a break in this one if Joakim Noah misses a third straight game with an ankle injury. Noah averaged 19.0 points and 14.0 rebounds in the final three games of last season’s series.
There figure to be enough problems inside for Chris Bosh and the Heat, who have the NBA’s worst rebounding differential (minus-5.2). Pau Gasol is averaging 20.4 points and 13.7 rebounds with Rose back for the last nine games, and Taj Gibson has returned after missing six with an ankle injury.
Wade and Deng won’t have it easy on the perimeter, either, against All-NBA second-team defender Jimmy Butler, whom Deng mentored in Chicago.
Butler’s also turned into an offensive force. His 21.0 points per game are only behind Wade’s 21.3 among East shooting guards.