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Bulls-Thunder game could be NBA Finals preview

By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune –

It all made for the ideal storyline: Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton back in the lineup with the Bulls set to face the Thunder in a possible NBA Finals preview in Oklahoma City.

Unfortunately, such a made-for-TV scenario won’t occur Sunday, unless Rose prepared for April Fools’ Day by playfully exaggerating his injury status.

All jokes aside, the Bulls (42-11) will be without the reigning MVP for a 10th consecutive game as Rose continues to nurse a groin strain. Hamilton will be a game-time decision as he’s recovering from a sprained shoulder.

Rose has not participated in a full-team scrimmage, an obstacle he likely will need to climb before re-entering the lineup. And Rose appeared to be far from close to a return based on the way he labored running laps with strength and condition coach Erik Helland after Saturday’s practice.

“Just trying to put it behind me, man,” Rose said for injury. “Just trying to stay positive. It feels the same.”

Rose was asked if he was tempted to accelerate the recovery process to face close friend Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the streaking Thunder (39-12). The Thunder have won five straight, including impressive victories over the Heat (103-87) and Lakers (102-93).

“Not tempted at all,” Rose said. “I’m worried about my health right now. Anyone would like to play against a (team) like that. Every game has been tempting. I just haven’t been able to play.”

Rose isn’t known as a lockdown defender, but the Bulls no doubt will miss his athleticism and quickness on defense Sunday. Durant (27.7 points per game) and Westbrook (24.4) are the top-scoring duo in the NBA at 52.1 points per game. Coach Tom Thibodeau can turn to Luol Deng and even Taj Gibson to guard Durant, but the matchups of C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and, perhaps, John Lucas IIIon Westbrook could be one-sided if he gets going early.

“You’re not going to guard them individually. You have to guard them collectively,” Thibodeau said, referring to Durant and Westbrook. “Our team defense will be critical.”

As a team the Bulls are 14-5 without Rose, including a victory over the Heat. And last week, the Heat-Thunder matchup was touted as an NBA Finals preview, slighting a Bulls team owning the league’s best record.

“We don’t worry about that stuff,” Carlos Boozer said. “We don’t worry about what everybody else says or what everybody else writes.

“This game is another game. It counts the same as the rest of them. It’s not the playoffs. It’s not the Finals. It’s just another game we want to win.”

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