Injured Rose hasn’t hurt Bulls

Derrick Rose’s back has been giving him problems lately. Maybe it’s from carrying the Chicago Bulls to the league’s best record last season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade.

The 2011 MVP, who is averaging 22 points and 7.8 assists per game this season, has been plagued by back spasms, which he said began at the start of the Bulls’ recent nine-game road trip. Rose saw limited action in last week’s games against the New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets, while sitting out the entire game Friday in Charlotte.

Rose also missed Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics, as the Bulls fell 95-91 in a hard-fought battle, ending their five-game winning streak. The Bulls struggled shooting the ball, hitting just under 39 percent of their shots. They are not the only team who has had a hard time scoring on Boston this season, however. The Celtics rank first in the NBA in team defense, giving up 86.6 points per game.

C.J. Watson and Carlos Boozer tied for a team-high 22 points for the Bulls,but it was not enough to match the play of Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo, who was unstoppable in Rose’s absence, recording a season-high 32 points. Rondo also had 15 assists and 10 rebounds, making for his second triple-double of the season.

It is obvious the Bulls would have liked to have Rose to combat Rondo and the Celtics’ stingy defense, but getting Rose healthy is more important than winning a midseason matchup. In fact, the Bulls, who boast the best record in the Eastern Conference (23-7), have still been able to win when Rose is not at full strength.

The return of small forward Luol Deng, who missed seven straight games with a torn ligament in his left wrist, has been key to the Bulls’ consistency. Deng returned Feb. 4 with a big game at Milwaukee, tallying 21 points and nine rebounds in a 113-90 victory.

Deng, one of the most underrated players in the NBA today, is averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season.

Despite his injury, Deng’s production was enough to earn him a spot in the 2012 NBA All-Star game, the first selection of his career.

The improved play of center Joakim Noah has been huge as well. Noah struggled mightily with his production in early January but has picked up the pace through the last month, registering seven double-doubles in his last 13 games. Noah is averaging nine points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season and is trying to return to his form of the last two seasons, when he averaged a double-double per game.

While the play of Noah and Deng has been important, arguably no one has been more crucial than Watson, who has done his best to pick up the slack at point guard with Rose on the bench. Watson is averaging more than 11 points and five assists per game in the month of February, while putting up his best game of the season last Monday in New Jersey. Watson tallied his first double-double of the year, producing 14 points and 11 assists, in addition to seven rebounds.

Rose will receive further treatment when he returns to Chicago. It is unknown how long he will continue to rest, but Coach Tom Thibodeau knows that having his best player ready for the playoffs has to be the ultimate goal.

Watson and others will need to maintain their solid play if the Bulls want to continue to win while Rose recovers. The Bulls play their next six games at the United Center, where they are 9-1 so far this season. That should help while they continue to keep up the pace, with the Heat and 76ers in the rearview mirror.

_Derek is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @feeldapaign._