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updated: 3/15/2012 1:16 AM

Bulls, Rose not about to back down

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For as big a game as it was supposed to be, the real drama at the UC occurred Wednesday night before there was a single fan in the building.

A little less than three hours before game time, Derrick Rose entered the UC by getting a ride from his car to the locker room, the basketball equivalent of the wheelchair trip to the hospital door.

Rose moved uneasily and limped slowly toward the door, grimacing with every step as he nursed a painful groin injury.

It was at that moment that Wednesday's game against the Heat became even less relevant than it might have been had Rose been able to play.

But it was clear he would not.

About 90 minutes later, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau let a larger-than-usual media throng know what was already apparent.

"Derrick's out,'' Thibodeau said. "C.J.'s in.''

Few heard that C.J. Watson was in, because by then reporters were furiously tweeting, or running toward hard lines and bright lights.

"It's tough for (Rose) to miss any game,'' Thibodeau said. "But the bench has been a strength for us all year.''

The Bulls' depth was impressive again Wednesday, but their defense was even more spectacular and the Bulls without Rose beat the Heat 106-102 at the UC.

But putting any stock in Wednesday's outcome would be as logical as believing the Bulls are a better team without Rose because they sometimes play better team basketball with Rose sidelined.

Derrick Rose or not, victory or defeat, the reality remains that regular-season games between these two teams are essentially meaningless.

Thibodeau can't learn anything he doesn't already know about the Heat, and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra isn't going to find out anything new about the Bulls.

Home court doesn't matter, as last season proved, and the regular season is relevant only in regards to how these two teams manage their health, something that has been an ongoing concern for the Bulls this season.

But assuming both have their rosters intact, the next game between them that matters will occur in the Eastern Conference finals.

"No one's making this game bigger than it is,'' Spoelstra said. "It still counts as one. Both teams are mature enough to see it for what it is.''

Well, Miami is, but the Bulls play every game as though it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and if Rose were healthy he would have been on the court Wednesday night breaking his back and trying as is ever the case to prove a point, the man without an inferiority complex playing the role of the eternally insulted.

The Heat, on the other hand, play in spurts, as though they need to prove to themselves and their opponents that they can manhandle any team any time.

But they also sometimes look like they don't care to finish games in the regular season.

Tuesday night in Orlando, for example, they had a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead, and then coasted to an overtime defeat, failing to shoot a single free throw in the third quarter, fourth quarter or overtime.

Does that sound to you like a team trying to go hard to the rim and draw contact?

"Well, we like to use the entire clock and make the other team work,'' Spoelstra said Wednesday at the UC. "If you attack, a lot of times you don't use as much clock and then you're giving the other team more chances to touch the ball.''

That's one explanation. Another is that a team that doesn't shoot a free throw the final three periods of a game has in mind self-preservation and saving something for the postseason.

It's a philosophy that got Miami past the Bulls and into the Finals a year ago.

At least to this point, it's a philosophy Derrick Rose would consider blasphemy, as playing every game like it's his last is a religion to the reigning MVP, and it's in part the reason he has missed 11 games to injury this season.

His effort is admirable, to say the least, but he was exhausted by the conference finals a year ago and as injuries mount it's probably worth remembering that the ultimate goal is to win an NBA title.

Perhaps, the notion of taking a possession off once in awhile is something Rose might want to consider.

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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