Under ideal circumstances, this would be a good time for the Bulls to battle for better playoff position.
They'll face the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday at the Barclays Center. A victory would not only bring coach Tom Thibodeau's team within a game in the loss column of the fourth-place Nets, they would also win the season series 3-1 and therefore own the tiebreaker.
Tonight's tip-offBulls vs. Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, 6 p.m. Thursday
Radio: WMVP 1000-AM
Update: The Nets finished an eight-game road trip in Cleveland on Wednesday and are trying to hang onto the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference. Center Brook Lopez is the team's top scorer at 19.2 ppg, followed by PG Deron Williams at 18.3. Joe Johnson (16.4 ppg) is battling a heel injury and missed his fifth straight Wednesday, and SF Gerald Wallace (8.2 ppg) is battling a foot injury.
Next: Orlando Magic on Friday at the United Center, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw
All that hardly matters now. The Bulls have been reduced to a single task for the final few weeks of the regular season -- try to get reasonably healthy.
The dream of Derrick Rose coming back, getting into shape and leading an inspiring playoff run is pretty much over. Maybe it's not completely extinguished -- since both Rose and Thibodeau have insisted when Rose is ready, he'll play -- but it's definitely fading fast.
With all of their other players on the floor, the Bulls could be competitive in most any playoff series. That's the issue right now, though, just getting back to the minimally-shorthanded lineup.
During Tuesday's 90-86 loss at Washington, Taj Gibson aggravated the left knee sprain he suffered in Oklahoma City on Feb. 24. The knee clearly buckled as he closed out on a defender in the second quarter, and even if nothing is torn, he's going to need time to heal. Getting him back for an estimated April 20 playoff opener appears questionable at best right now.
"That's what happens when you rush back to try to help your team win," Gibson told reporters after the loss to Washington. "I tried to play through it. I got nicked up the last couple of games but kept playing. … Hopefully, it's not as bad as before."
Meanwhile, Joakim Noah has missed six games with plantar fasciitis, Marco Belinelli has sat out five with an abdominal strain and it doesn't seem likely Richard Hamilton will return from a back injury, although he has been moving around at practice.
As for Rose? Who knows?
The Bulls have held a belief since the ACL surgery that playing at the end of this season will help Rose heading into next year, so they don't figure to stand in the way of a comeback.
For the short term, getting healthier is the only priority. If Malcolm Thomas and Vladimir Radmanovic need to start playing 35 minutes per game, so be it. The Bulls have already clinched a playoff spot and the seed doesn't matter anymore.
"We're grinding with what we've got," Carlos Boozer said Wednesday, according to bulls.com. "The guys playing are playing great. We're super short-handed, playing heavy minutes against different matchups and having a chance to win every night. Our goal is to be healthy going into the playoffs. (But) we'd like to (also) get a good rhythm before that."
Already this season, coach Tom Thibodeau has mentioned the 2009-10 Celtics, the last year he spent as an assistant in Boston. That team wasn't devastated by injuries or anything (Kevin Garnett missed 13 games, Paul Pierce skipped 11), but it finished the season going 3-7, landed fourth in the East and still made it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
That would be a decent comparison to the current Bulls if Rose was coming back. As it stands, though, the Bulls should have enough to compete with New York, Indiana or Brooklyn in a first-round playoff series if Noah and Gibson are at least 90 percent healthy.
The Bulls are 3-0 against the Knicks this season, 2-1 against the Nets and a competitive 1-3 against the Pacers, playing with a depleted lineup each time.
Keep in mind, the Bulls have gotten beyond the first round of the playoffs just twice in the last 14 years, so the fans deserve a decent effort, even if this is essentially a lost season because of Rose's injury.
Playoff tickets go on sale:
Tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs will go on sale Friday at 11 a.m. at TicketMaster outlets, the United Center box office, online at bulls.com or by calling 1-800-4NBA-TIX.