MIAMI — The Miami Heat say they won’t be caught off guard if Derrick Rose makes an unexpected comeback for the Chicago Bulls in their second-round playoff series.
Rose, who has not played all season since having ACL knee surgery a year ago, has traveled and practiced with the Bulls for at least two months.
Neither Rose nor the Bulls have ruled the former league MVP out for the playoffs, though coach Tom Thibodeau said at the start of the playoffs that he was doubtful Rose would play.
The Heat, however, are preparing just in case with Game 1 on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami has been off since completing a four-game sweep on April 28 of the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We have to prepare for the awareness that he could possibly come back,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Rose after Miami’s two-hour workout Sunday. “That’s all the thought we’re giving it. If he does [return in the series], we’ll try to be as aggressive as we normally are.”
The Heat and Bulls will meet in the playoffs for the first time since Miami eliminated Chicago in five games during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. The Heat went on to lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals but came back to defeat Oklahoma City for the title last season.
In the past two seasons, the Heat have faced Chicago as many times with Rose as without him because of injuries. The teams split four regular-season meetings this year, with each winning once on the road. The most significant result came on March 27 when the Bulls, playing without Rose and All-Star center Joakim Noah, ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak six victories short of the NBA record.
There has been plenty of speculation regarding Rose’s status in recent weeks amid reports he was cleared months ago by team doctors to resume basketball activity.
But Rose told reporters last week that he was still dealing with “muscle memory” complications around his knee that has made it difficult to feel comfortable enough to return.
In addition to Rose, the status of two other starters remains uncertain. Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich (calf) and forward Luol Deng (illness) missed the Bulls’ victory in Game 7 against Brooklyn on Saturday and are questionable for Monday’s game. Chicago didn’t practice Sunday after traveling to Miami following the first Game 7 playoff road win in franchise history.
So after waiting nearly a week to learn which team they’d meet in the second round, the Heat still aren’t quite sure which Bulls players they’ll face on the court Monday.
“Right now, you can’t [be certain] — you just don’t know,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of facing the banged-up Bulls. “That’s the nature of the NBA … with a lot of guys banged up, dealing with injuries. We’re not playing personnel, we’re playing a team. This is a system team.”
Wade has been dealing with soreness in his right knee and missed the Heat’s series-clinching Game 4 victory against the Bucks last Sunday. But after more than 10 days of rest and treatment, Wade said he expects to play Monday. Asked if he believed Rose might eventually join him in the series, Wade dismissed the question with a sheepish grin.
“I don’t know,” Wade said. “It’s tough, but we’ll see. It’s a great story line.”
The Bulls have already taken on the Cinderella story line of these NBA playoffs. They also have a track record of playing relentless and physical defense that has given the Heat plenty of fits regardless of who’s been available.
With or without an appearance from Rose, the Heat are preparing for what’s expected to be a brutal series.
“I’d be surprised,” Heat center Chris Bosh said about the possibility of Rose returning. “But that’s totally his decision. If he does, we’re going to make it tough on him.”