HoopsHabit – “Does Derrick Rose’s Absence Show Mental Stability Or Weakness?”

Ever since Derrick Rose was medically cleared to play, people started clamoring for his return. But it never came. Was his decision to stay sidelined during the playoffs a sign of mental stability or weakness? Here’s my HoopsHabit piece with the answer to that question.

Windy City Woes

When Derrick Rose went down with an ACL tear with just over a minute to play in Game one against the Sixers, I was genuinely upset. Not because I was cheering for the Bulls in the series or because I’m a big D-Rose fan, but because without him, the Bulls can’t reach their full potential. Most of the basketball experts immediately started making doomsday proclamations about a Chicago team without Rose, saying it would be tough for them to even advance out of the first round. There might be some validity to those claims after Philadelphia stunned the Bulls in Game 2 with a 109-92 win on Chicago’s floor. The Sixers’ point guards killed a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team, with Jrue Holiday scoring 26 and Lou Williams adding in 20 of his own. So now the question must once again be posed to Tom Thibodeau’s squad: How far can the Bulls go with Derrick Rose on the sideline?

I’d like to say that Game 2 was just a fluke, a game that was destined to go Philly’s way after such a shocking and season-altering injury had occurred just a few days before. But the way the Sixers attacked Chicago with their point guards, even though this Bulls team has statistically played better defense in the past without Rose, raises some concern about the rest of this series as it shifts back to Philadelphia for the next two games. But despite the fact that Philly’s point guards grossly outscored Chicago’s (46 for Holiday and Williams compared to 27 between C.J. Watson and John Lucas), this beatdown was more about the Bulls than it was about the Sixers. In the regular season, Chicago was 18-9 without Derrick Rose. How? Because they played defense. Because they rebounded. And because Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer stepped up offensively. None of those things happened in Chicago’s awful second half collapse.

The Sixers buried the Bulls in the third quarter with a barrage of alley-oops and fast break points.

A normally stingy Chicago defense gave up 109 points to a Sixers team that has struggled to score all year. They were outscored 36-14 in the third quarter, the only time in franchise history a Bulls team has been outscored by 20 points in the third quarter. The gave up 59 percent shooting on the game as the Sixers got alley-oop after alley-oop during their big run to open the second half. They let Evan Turner walk all over their defense with 19 points, and this was the guy who Chicago had every reason to shut down after he ran his mouth and vilified himself for the entire first round with his outspoken comments about matching up well with the East-leading Bulls. They even let a guy like Lavoy Allen flirt with a double double (11 points and 9 rebounds). On the boards, the Bulls were out-rebounded by a smaller Sixers lineup, 38-32. But worst of all, no one other than Joakim Noah and John Lucas had proficient games. While Noah racked up 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one steal, Luol Deng finished with 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting while Carlos Boozer only had 9 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Chicago’s Game 2 woes might have been a fluke; Philly doesn’t score that well consistently, Chicago normally plays defense and rebounds better, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have nowhere to go but up after their appalling performances. But if this shell-shocked team continues to flounder without their floor leader and doesn’t harness that team basketball that got them so many wins with Rose sidelined, they might not advance past the first round against a truly weaker opponent. No disrespect to Philadelphia, but even without Derrick Rose on the floor, Chicago is a much better all-around team. Don’t forget that this is the same team that has beaten the Heat and other East-contending teams without their star point guard in uniform. Tom Thibodeau, aside from the questionable decision to keep Rose in the game so late, was a Coach of the Year candidate and has turned his team into a defensively minded, hard-nosed team that knows how to win. I still like Chicago in this series, but they need to get back on track and play their brand of basketball with two tough games in Philadelphia coming up.

With Derrick Rose on the sidelines, Chicago needs to channel their effective style of team basketball for Game 3.

A Costly Game One

The Chicago Bulls got a game one victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and everything looked like it was going according to plan. But with just over a minute left in the game and Chicago up by 12, Derrick Rose landed awkwardly on his left leg and went down immediately. It’s safe to say astronauts in outer space could hear the collective gasp from the city of Chicago as the Bulls playoff hopes may have just gone out the window.

While the extent of D-Rose’s knee injury is still unknown, the fact that he went down without any contact from a defender means it’s probably serious. Now up until this point, Tom Thibodeau has been a top candidate for the NBA Coach of the Year Award, but leaving your superstar, who has a history of injuries this season, in a game that was all but over has got to be the biggest bonehead move of his coaching career. I don’t question putting Rose back in the game with just under eight minutes to play; the Sixers had cut the lead to 15 and Chicago needed to squash any comeback hopes right away. In a seven game series, it’s critical to stomp on another team’s hopes whenever you get the chance. But leaving him in that long? The Bulls extended their lead once Rose came back in and it would have been perfectly acceptable to sub him out with four or five minutes left. This poor coaching decision might haunt the Chicago Bulls for the rest of the year.

Because now Chicago is looking at possibly playing the rest of the series, and maybe even the entire playoffs, without their star point guard. The reigning MVP is the only one capable of leading this Bulls team to the promised land. He had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists before going down with the injury, which is particularly impressive considering how little time he’s had to get back into full swing. The Bulls had a great team chemistry going: Rose was leading like they need him to, Richard Hamilton was scoring like they’ve wanted him to all season, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver were hitting shots and Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer were grabbing rebounds and displaying great interior passing. All of this makes Rose’s injury an even bigger disappointment: he went from almost dropping a triple double in an easy playoff win to potentially missing the rest of the year.

I’m not too concerned about Chicago winning the series. Philadelphia can’t score and C.J. Watson has proven himself as a capable backup point guard. But the Sixers smell blood and their odds of winning a few games just went up. But more importantly, this injury isn’t just about this series. Chicago has a real shot at winning a title with everyone healthy. Now they’re going to have to fight to get to the second round.

Chicago cannot win a championship without Derrick Rose. That’s just a fact. While they’ve proven that they can win without him, they cannot win the NBA Finals without D-Rose. Hopefully he’ll be able to return at some point this postseason, but a non-contact injury is never good and given his durability so far this season, I’m forced to make the unfortunate prediction that Derrick Rose won’t be back anytime soon. And Thibs and the Bulls will regret it for a long time.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 2:13 P.M.: Derrick Rose tore his ACL and MCL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Looks like Chicago’s title hopes will have to wait until next year. While Thibodeau made the right move putting him back in with 8 minutes to go, he singlehandedly destroyed his team’s chances of winning an NBA title by not taking him out.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 2:35 P.M.: NBC Miami prematurely reported that Derrick Rose had torn his ACL and MCL. The results of the MRI are still pending.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 3:29 P.M.: It has been confirmed that Derrick Rose has torn his ACL and is done for the rest of the season.

Chicago's title hopes now rest with Derrick Rose's latest injury.

Top 20 Players To Watch in The Playoffs

Now this list can’t technically be fully complete since the playoff teams aren’t determined yet, but I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on which players have had the most meaningful seasons for their teams and which ones will be the most essential to both their team’s success and a viewing audience. So even though Milwaukee is only two games back and Utah is only half a game behind, for the sake of this post, we’re going to assume they don’t make it to the postseason. The Suns currently hold the eighth spot, owning a tiebreaker over Houston, and since they’re both so close to the Nuggets and Mavs, I included a player from each of those four teams just in case. Spoiler alert: the biggest snubs on this list are Dwyane Wade, Andrew Bynum, Russell Westbrook, Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin. Now that that’s out of the way, without further adieu, here are the top 20 players you need to watch in the NBA playoffs this year:

20) Steve Nash – There’s no guarantee this guy even gets a chance to make some noise in the playoffs, but if Phoenix does somehow maintain their current playoff standing, Steve Nash is the one you want to pay attention to. The way he facilitates and runs the point guard is absolutely gorgeous to watch, and if he takes a decent number of shots, he can be pretty entertaining in close games as well. Don’t count this championship-hungry point guard out just yet.

Can Steve Nash give the Suns another playoff run?

19) Andre Iguodala – I’m not big on the 76ers. The numerous posts I’ve written about them this year should have gotten that point across already. I didn’t even want to put anyone from Philadelphia on this list, because they don’t really have anyone exciting on their roster anymore, but if anyone in Philly were to help the Sixers finally get past the first round of the playoffs, it would be Andre Iguodala. The new A.I. has seen better seasons, but he finally hit the 20-point mark for the first time in 40+ games. If he can somehow put up solid numbers in multiple categories like he tends to do, who knows? Maybe Philly will be worth watching this year.

Andre Iguodala will need to score for Philly to have a prayer.

18) James Harden – What? Russell Westbrook gets snubbed and somehow James Harden makes the cut? Let me explain. While Westbrook is certainly one of the top players to watch every night for his pure athleticism and entertainment value, James Harden is the definitive role player to keep an eye on during the postseason this year. We’ve grown accustomed to both Kevin Durant and Westbrook going for 40+, but few people realize how vital James Harden’s scoring ability is for this team. Harden has been the perfect sixth man and third-best player on the Thunder, and if he plays as well as he has all season, I still think the Thunder are favorites to make the NBA Finals. Plus, for the millionth time, you can’t ignore that ferocious beard!

I give you...the black King Leonidas!

17) Paul Pierce – Rajon Rondo is running the show down in Boston as the ringmaster, but Paul Pierce is the main attraction. Pierce is the one who puts up big points, take game winning shots and usually rises to the occasion when matched up with another superstar at his position (LeBron James especially). Rondo is the one with the pretty assists making critical plays for his team, but Paul Pierce is the one knocking down threes and somehow getting around younger defenders to the rim to fire the crowd up.

Pierce dropped 43 last night. Safe to say he's still got it.

16) Chris Bosh – Yes, I am fully aware the Dwyane Wade is probably the biggest snub on this list (Russell Westbrook is up there too), but from a team’s success standpoint, the Miami Heat always have the comfort of D-Wade showing up to play well. Saying Wade is going to play well in the playoffs is like saying the Bobcats are a terrible team; we already know that. But whether or not Chris Bosh shows up will be a huge question for Miami. If Bosh rebounds and puts up 20+ points a night, the Heat will be extremely tough to beat, but if he disappears, so will Miami.

Plus, come on, how funny is that?

15) Arron Afflalo – I wanted to give this spot to Danilo Gallinari, but with the way Arron Afflalo’s been playing lately, it’s impossible to deny that he is the player to watch on the Denver Nuggets this postseason. It’s hard to pick just one player on such a balanced team, but Afflalo’s been leading this team in scoring and playing very effectively. While I still think the Nuggets need Danilo Gallinari to play like an All-Star to win and even though Ty Lawson is prone to having big nights, Afflalo will most likely be Denver’s most consistent offensive weapon.

Arron Afflalo is leading the charge for a balanced Denver team.

14) Tony Parker – Someone from the Spurs had to make the list, and since Tim Duncan is so fundamentally sound that his dominance has become boring to us, I had to go with Tony Parker. Parker has had an All-Star season and is probably the most exciting player to watch on a very mundane Spurs team. San Antonio has never been the most entertaining team to watch, but if they want to avoid another first-round playoff exit, they will rely on Tony Parker to run the offense and pump up the fans.

Tony Parker is the Spurs most entertaining and essential player.

13) Goran Dragic – Now everyone in the NBA knows what Phoenix Suns fans have known for years: Goran Dragic is a quality point guard who should be starting somewhere. Now that he’s gotten that chance in Houston, he hasn’t disappointed expectations, averaging 19.9 ppg, 7.4 apg, 3.4 rpg and 2.0 spg in April. He was a terrific replacement when Kyle Lowry was out with a bacterial infection and is keeping Houston in the playoff race as a starter even with Lowry playing again. Dragic is exciting, athletic, attacks the basket and has been an extremely pleasant surprise for the league. Keep your eye on this kid, he can score points in bunches.

Dragic has become the man down in Houston.

12) Rudy Gay – Rudy Gay is Memphis’ main main and can get a crowd on their feet extremely fast with one his signature high-flying dunks. Marc Gasol will need to keep performing consistently and I almost gave this spot to Zach Randolph because of how badly the Grizzlies need him to play well again, but Rudy Gay will be leading his team in the playoffs this year, for better or worse.

Rudy Gay is an exciting player on a surging Memphis squad.

11) Rajon Rondo – Paul Pierce connects better with the crowd, but Rajon Rondo’s tendency to rack up triple doubles and find the open man with fancy passing and dribbling makes him the show-stopper in Boston. Rondo doesn’t always put up big scoring numbers, but the way he runs the point powers this Celtics team and is worth noticing.

Rondo is one of the most exciting guards in the league.

10) Josh Smith – Josh Smith is Atlanta’s Do-It-All Guy. The Hawks really don’t look like they’ve improved much over the past few years and seem primed for a first-round playoff exit (again), but if they somehow do compete, it’ll be behind superhuman performances from Atlanta’s high-rising, all-around stud Josh Smith. Smith can score, rebound, block shots and do whatever else his team needs to win. Joe Johnson used to be the alpha dog in Atlanta, but Smith has taken over that role now.

Josh Smith is a high-rising dunk machine, but he's an all-around great player too.

9) Dirk Nowtizki – Don’t forget the guy who’s the main reason we refer to the Dallas Mavericks as “defending champs.” Dirk has struggled at times this season, but if he finds the right motivation, he can single-handedly keep his team in games down the stretch. Dirk is nearly impossible to guard, so when he’s starting to get hot, you can almost guarantee audiences are in for something special.

You definitely can't forget about the big German in the playoffs this year.

8) Dwight Howard – After a drama-filled season, Dwight Howard almost needs to come back and play. Herniated disk in his back or not, Superman has to show up and play his heart out this postseason to save his team and his reputation. The Magic have been on the steady decline with Howard sitting out, and after all he’s put the Orlando organization and fanbase through this season, the least he could do is come out and roll over every center unfortunate enough to cross his path. Dwight Howard flip flopped on staying in Orlando. He was involved in rumors that he wanted Stan Van Gundy fired. He mailed-in an awful, half-hearted performance the day those rumors surfaced. He owes the Magic everything he’s got and if he’s healthy (big IF there), we could be in for a treat.

Howard is currently questionable for the playoffs, but he needs to suit up and play some amazing basketball for the sake of his team, his coach and his legacy.

7) Danny Granger – Danny Granger never gets enough credit for being the superstar that he is; he didn’t make the All-Star team this year getting completely snubbed, yet he’s led the Pacers night in and night out. Indiana still isn’t getting credit as a tough postseason matchup, yet they’re third in the Eastern Conference and find a way to just keep winning thanks to Granger’s consistent scoring every game. The Pacers were my sleeper team before the season even began, and rightfully so after they gave the Bulls all they could handle in the first round last year (Chicago won in 5, but had to work for all of those wins). If the Pacers turn out as dangerous as I think they are, Danny Granger will be the guy to keep an eye on.

The Pacers are dangerous. Is it Danny Granger's time to move into the elite category?

6) Kobe Bryant – Kobe Bryant is always a player to watch come playoff time, but this year his story will be more interesting based on how he deals with that shin injury that has sidelined him for five games now. Make no mistake, Kobe has no problem playing through pain. So with him missing so much time, he is either in a lot of pain or he’s really making a commitment to being 100% for the playoffs. Either way, how Kobe comes to play this postseason will be worth following, especially now that the Lakers have established some chemistry and have been able to win without him on the floor. Andrew Bynum was a big snub, especially considering his temper and what he did in the postseason last year, but Kobe is still the biggest reason to watch the Lakers and that won’t change even if Bynum is still a head case.

Kobe Bryant is still THE player to watch down in LA

5) Chris Paul – There is one player you need to watch during the playoffs this year on the Clippers, and no, it isn’t Blake Griffin. I’m sure Griffin will provide us with plenty of Lob Alert specials on SportsCenter’s Top Ten, but Chris Paul is the player to watch for LAC this season. CP3’s complete control of the game has been quintessential of what a true point guard does: managing and facilitating, deferring to teammates for the majority of the game and taking over in the fourth quarter when they need it the most. If there’s a close game for the Clippers, notice how it will come down to Chris Paul’s heroics.

CP3 has taken worse teams to the playoffs before. How far can he take the Clippers?

4) Derrick Rose – The Bulls success this postseason is contingent upon one thing: how Derrick Rose fits in with Chicago’s new team chemistry. Everyone knows the Bulls won’t win a championship without D-Rose, but it’s also pretty clear they can’t win if he’s taking too many shots or not 100% up to speed. Because of all the time he’s missed with injury, D-Rose has to make sure his own skills and play are up to par as well as fit in with the team dynamic again. The Bulls are the best team in the league as of right now, so if Derrick Rose can elevate his game again and if Chicago’s supporting cast can play as well as they have without him on the court, the Windy City might get its first championship since the days of Michael Jordan.

Can D-Rose stay healthy long enough to give the Bulls more last-second, game-winning magic?

3) Carmelo Anthony – Here’s his recent resume: over 30 ppg and 7 rpg in the month of April, singlehandedly turned New York into the most dangerous underdog in the East, inspired the entire city’s hope in a Knicks team with an interim coach, finally started playing like the top 5 superstar he was down in Denver, played much better defense, looked like he cares about both sides of the court, developed into a leader for a team without Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, and finally looked happy playing the game again. I’d say that sounds like a player worth watching when the playoffs roll around. Based on how everyone in the NBA is playing right now, if I had to pick one guy to lead this Knicks team to a first-round upset over the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls (their most likely opponents as of right now), it’d be Carmelo Anthony. I told you Melo wasn’t the problem!

Carmelo Anthony has finally got his game face on. He dropped a triple double last night. What does he have in store for the playoffs? I'm excited to find out.

2) Kevin Durant – People have been saying it all season long: This is Oklahoma City’s year. This is Kevin Durant’s year. The Thunder have handled all that talk all year long and have done it well until recently when they dropped a few games. But OKC still sits atop the Western Conference and anything less than the Western Conference Finals would be a big failure for them. Kevin Durant has stepped up in big games all season long, can score from anywhere on the court and electrifies audiences and home crowds with elite crunch-time performances. Durantula is one of those players that you just sit back, relax and enjoy.

Is it finally Kevin Durant's turn? If OKC is going to win it all, Durantula is has to bring it.

1) LeBron James – LeBron might be the number one guy to watch this postseason. Not only because of his MVP season that he’s had this year, but because this year, LeBron NEEDS to win it all to save his name, his reputation, his Decision and possibly even his legacy. The fact that Miami didn’t win it all last season was disappointing, but not inexplicable; it was only their first year together. But this year, after having a whole season to improve with that thirst and anger after losing last year, falling short this year would be indefensible. So now everyone will tune in to watch LeBron James either finally succeed, score in the crunch time and prove everyone wrong, or they will watch as LeBron shies away from the fourth quarter spotlight, the Heat implode and revel in watching this misunderstood superstar fall flat again. Either way, you know you’re going to be watching.

Win or lose, choke or championship, you know you want to see this guy either way.

EASTer Update

Happy Easter, NBA fans! Just in case you haven’t been following all the recent developments in the league this week, here’s a quick rundown of where everyone stands:

Chicago Bulls – The Bulls still have a three-game lead over the Miami Heat for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. But in addition to all this news is that Chicago’s star point guard Derrick Rose is hopeful to play today against the New York Knicks after missing 12 games with a groin injury. If D-Rose can mesh with the team chemistry the Bulls established without their MVP on the court, look out for this team in the playoffs.

Miami Heat – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat have dropped some games this week, raising concerns about whether or not this team will be peaking at the right time. People are right when they say that you can’t just turn it on and off, but if any team can, it’s the Heat. Despite getting smashed by the Grizzlies, keep in mind that Memphis is the sleeper team of the West and it was only one game. Miami and LeBron made a statement in a win over the Thunder on Wednesday and should be comfortable entering the postseason with the two seed.

LeBron James settled the MVP debate with a dominant performance against the Thunder Wednesday.

Indiana Pacers – Despite dropping a game against the Celtics at home in an ugly offensive performance, the Pacers have taken the three spot in the East like I predicted they would. The Pacers were on a five-game winning streak until their off-night against Boston and have looked impressive with wins over Houston, New York and OKC. Danny Granger has been a terrific leader and has stepped up his offensive production when Indiana has needed him to. Don’t be surprised if this sleeper team makes some noise in the playoffs as the third seed.

Danny Granger has stepped his game up and the Pacers have moved up the standings as a result.

Boston Celtics – The Celtics have been on the rise in the past few games thanks to Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, but you can expect them to lose a fair amount of games down the stretch because of their tough remaining schedule. The Celtics have a two-game lead over the 76ers for the fourth seed and the top spot in the Atlantic division, but with their remaining schedule, it’s even money on who takes this spot. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Celtics did hang on, if only because of how bad the Sixers have been lately.

Atlanta Hawks – While the Hawks haven’t proven much in their three-game winning streak (they beat Charlotte twice and Detroit), they are only a half-game behind Indiana for the third seed. Josh Smith has been playing like a man possessed this month, doing it all for Atlanta. The Hawks’ remaining schedule is pretty favorable, but it remains to be seen how this inconsistent team will fare once the playoffs roll around.

Orlando Magic – After a tumultuous week of friction, media criticism and poor play, the Magic ended their five-game losing streak with a much-needed win in Philadelphia. Even though Philly isn’t playing good ball right now, the win was impressive because Orlando was without Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu, as well as the fact that Dwight Howard has been getting hammered for the past few days. Superman responded with a statement game: 20 points, 22 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. As long as Stan Van Gundy and D12 focus on playing basketball, the Magic will at least compete.

Dwight Howard silenced his critics with a 20-point, 22-rebound performance against the Sixers.

Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers have lost three straight and four of their last five. I predicted this team was a pretender, but I didn’t think they’d collapse like this heading into the postseason. Philly has an easier remaining schedule than Boston, but the way they’re playing right now, with Andre Iguodala getting booed at the free throw line at home, things are looking good. All this combined with their ever-present inability to score should make for a first-round exit in the playoffs.

New York Knicks – The Knicks are playing great basketball right now and Carmelo Anthony has finally started to play like the quality superstar fans have waited for since he first came to New York. It took almost an entire season, but Melo is finally in shape and shooting well, so even with Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire still sidelined, the Knicks are in good shape. Iman Shumpert and the rest of the Knicks’ role players have all stepped up, but New York still has to keep winning because of how good the Bucks are playing. The Knicks are only one game behind Philly for the seventh seed but are just one game ahead of Milwaukee for the final playoff spot.

Carmelo Anthony has finally started playing like one of the NBA's elite superstars again.

Milwaukee Bucks – The final playoff-contending team in the East is doing everything it can to catch the Knicks for the last postseason spot, but the Knicks are doing extremely well in winning to keep Milwaukee at bay. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis look like they’ve grown acclimated to each other and form one of the most formidable backcourts in the NBA. Jennings, Ellis and Ersan Illyasova, along with a suddenly lively bench, will keep them in the playoff hunt until the end.

Happy EASTer basketball fans!

Injury Report – 3/24/12

Derrick Rose – Rose returned to practice but was limited and is unlikely to play tonight in the Bulls’ contest with the Raptors. Rose has missed the past five games for Chicago with a pulled groin but is still listed as day-to-day. Chicago has been successful without their star point guard on the court, but I’ve already written about how much D-Rose means to the Bulls and that sentiment grows with the playoffs looming.

Brook Lopez – Lopez’s ankle injury has been reevaluated and the New Jersey center will be out for at least another two weeks, putting his return date in mid-April. Because the Nets are not exactly contending for anything, they may consider just sidelining him for the rest of the year.

Kyle Lowry – Lowry’s bacterial infection that sent him to the hospital will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period of time. Lowry was initially projected to return in two to four weeks but The Houston Chronicle reports that his return could still be weeks away. This is a critical stretch for the Rockets, who currently hold on to the number eight seed in the West.

Kevin Martin – Martin’s MRI showed a tear in the labral of his right shoulder, an existing injury he aggravated February 2 and then became a major problem March 11 after running into a screen against the Cavs. Although he is listed as day-to-day, expect him to miss a more substantial amount of time now.

Michael Pietrus – Pietrus left Boston’s matchup with Philly yesterday on a stretcher in the first half. He was hospitalized and was diagnosed with a closed head injury after landing hard on his back in a collision with Lou Williams. The game was delayed for 10 minutes while medical trainers looked on. Fortunately, it was reported this morning that Pietrus was lucky enough to avoid a serious head injury, though he may have a concussion. Pietrus could return to the court sometime this season.

Pietrus was hospitalized after landing hard on his back. His neck seemed to whiplash.

Andrew Bogut – Despite reports that Bogut could make a late-season return, Golden State’s new center will not be making his debut for the Warriors this season. In fact, Bogut may not even be ready to play for Australia in the Summer Olympics.

Al Horford – Horford will not play for the remainder of the regular season, but could possibly return during the postseason. Atlanta’s skilled big man tore his pectoral muscle January 11 and has not played since.

Eric Gordon – Gordon is set to return to practice next week. Although the Hornets didn’t give an expected return date, this is a good sign for New Orleans’ injury-plagued guard.

Tony Parker – Parker missed the Spurs’ game yesterday with a mild hamstring strain he sustained in Wednesday’s victory over Minnesota. For now, consider him day-to-day.

Stephen Curry – Curry’s ankle is set to be reexamined by the Warriors’ medical staff this weekend. His status for next week and perhaps the rest of the season will depend on what the medical staff determines, as the Warriors have said they will not play Curry until he is 100 percent.

Anderson Varejao – Varejao is expected to return to practice in one or two weeks after sitting out since February 10 with a wrist injury. However, the Cavs are starting to slip away from playoff contention, which means they will not rush Varejao’s return.

Rodney Stuckey – Stuckey missed yesterday’s game with a strained toe injury. It was the second game he has missed for the Pistons, but he is still listed as day-to-day.

Danilo Gallinari – After suffering a fractured left thumb against the Mavericks, Gallinari could miss up to four weeks. This is a tough break for Denver’s talented small forward, who already missed considerable time earlier this season and was just getting back into rhythm. However, the Nuggets should be okay and do not need to rush his return thanks to Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee.

Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic’s ankles, which have been a recurring problem over the past few weeks, might keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. Pekovic is hopeful to return for Minnesota’s matchup with Denver, but T-Wolves fans shouldn’t hold their breath until he has played (and stayed) on the court for an entire game.

The Durability of D-Rose

Every Rose has its thorn. But for Derrick Rose, it seems to be a gigantic spike known as “injury.” Rose missed his fifth game in a row last night with a pulled groin, an injury he sustained against the Knicks on March 12. It was the 15th game he’s missed this season after sitting out earlier in the year with a turf-toe injury and then back spasms. So even though nobody in Chicago wants to ask it, the question is rapidly gaining significance: How much durability can we expect from Derrick Rose?

This question might seem a bit hasty considering how good D-Rose always looks coming back from an injury. From a Chicago fan’s viewpoint, this guy is pretty much invincible. Some people are even under the impression that his injuries haven’t been that severe but because the Bulls can function without him, his return hasn’t been urgent. Tom Thibodeau denies this and talks about how much the Bulls want him on the court, but with backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas playing so well, what’s the rush? Technically, Derrick Rose isn’t even a true point guard, which explains why the Bulls have been okay without him; Watson and Lucas can facilitate to Deng, Boozer and Joakim Noah while pitching in some buckets as well. This is much different from Rose’s guardplay, which is centered on scoring first and distributing second.

It kills Rose to sit on the bench. It will kill the Bulls eve more when the playoffs roll around.

But let’s not get carried away here. The Bulls need D-Rose. Despite being 11-4 without Rose on the floor, no one in their right mind would argue that Chicago can top the Miami Heat in the East without the reigning MVP. Carlos Boozer won’t play at such a stellar level for the entire season. Luol Deng won’t keep hitting on all cylinders forever. And when the Chicago Bulls need a savior, someone to pick them up with a ridiculous crunch-time bucket, they will look to Derrick Rose to do so.

Unfortunately, that same aggressive, high-flying, “never back down” mentality is the exact reason why Rose has been injured so much. His playing style involves attacking the rim, maneuvering and twisting through the air, which usually leads to drawing a fair amount of contact. Because he’s so strong and quick in attacking the basket, Rose deals with that regular amount of contact from defenders, with a lot of it not being called by the referees. This constant wear-and-tear finally seems to be taking its toll. Every time Rose has been injured this season, Chicago has listed him as “day-to-day,” which is particularly frustrating for Bulls fans and fantasy owners who watch as he continues to miss games. A growing concern that no one really wants to acknowledge is whether or not Rose can stay healthy for the playoffs.

If his injuries really are “day-to-day,” fans of Chicago and good basketball in general should be excited to watch him play in the postseason again. If he can stay healthy, the Bulls should be favorites to take on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. And although the Heat have had Chicago’s number in the past two years, Rose could be the piece that lifts them to a Finals appearance. However, if he can’t stay healthy, look for the Bulls to make a quick exit in the second round. Because although the Bulls are capable of winning games without their star point guard, a seven game series with teams like the Sixers, Pacers or Hawks just doesn’t seem favorable if Derrick Rose isn’t leading the way.

D-Rose's will to win makes him a clutch performer for the Bulls. Exhibit A: Game-winner against the Lakers on Christmas.