INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Even as the Chicago Bulls wrapped up another impressive victory, the question that has dogged them remained unanswered: Will Derrick Rose be ready for the playoffs after fighting through injuries all season?
Rose, last season's league MVP, finished with 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting to help the Bulls defeat the Indiana Pacers 92-87 on Wednesday night.
Rose has missed 26 games this season and he's just beginning to return to form after most recently dealing with injuries to his right ankle and foot. Though he couldn't finish like he normally does on his quick, furious drives to the basket, his unparalleled explosiveness was back.
``Every day is getting better,' he said. ``I'm not trying to do too much out there, just trying to play with the team, trying not to get reinjured. That's the biggest thing, and making sure I'm playing with a lot of confidence.'
Rose, who had seven assists and just one turnover in 27 minutes, had 11 points and eight assists on Saturday in a win over Dallas after missing the previous three games.
``I think he's getting a lot more comfortable,' Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. ``His body is feeling a lot better and he needs to play. He needs to play in games. He'll get up to speed very quickly.'
Kyle Korver scored 20 points, Carlos Boozer had 16 points and Joakim Noah had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Chicago. The Bulls ended the game needing just a win over Cleveland on Thursday or a loss by the San Antonio Spurs to clinch the top overall seed in the playoffs.
The Bulls said earning the top seed is a secondary goal.
``We're just trying to do what we can do as a team,' Noah said. ``We're just playing for ourselves. We just want to be playing well for when it really counts.'
Lance Stephenson had a career-high 22 points in his first career start for the Pacers, who rested Danny Granger and Leandro Barbosa because they were locked into the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Indiana will have homecourt advantage against Orlando in the first round.
``Our last two games, the primary goal was to sharpen up for Game 1 of the playoffs,' Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ``Our starters got some good reps tonight and so did our bench. We accomplished the goal of getting a good look at Lance Stephenson.'
Chicago led 49-36 at halftime after shooting 50 percent from the field and outrebounding the Pacers 25-16. The Pacers shot just 5 for 21 from the field in the second quarter and were outscored 17-12.
Indiana went on a 7-0 run early in the third quarter to cut Chicago's lead to 55-47 and force a timeout.
The Bulls hung tough, and a fast break layup by Richard Hamilton pushed their lead back to 67-54. Chicago led 67-59 at the end of the third quarter.
A dunk by Taj Gibson increased Chicago's lead to 73-60.
Indiana made one more push. A fast break layup by Stephenson cut the Bulls' lead to 78-71 with 5:57 to play, but Chicago maintained control.
Thibodeau said the Bulls will play their regular lineup on Thursday.
``It will be about the same,' he said. ``We'll see where we are. I want our starters to get more time together, so it will be similar to tonight. We'll see how the game unfolds. I just want us to continue to take it step by step.'
Thibodeau said the Bulls need the game against Cleveland to get sharper.
``There's always things you can do better and we need to work on, but we're getting there,' he said. ``Our starters haven't played a lot together all year so it was a good opportunity for them to get some quality time on the floor. I thought that was good for us.'
Rose wants one more chance to prepare for a pressure situation before the postseason begins.
``If the game was in a crazy type of game and at the end I need to take over, that's what I'm going to try to do,' he said.
Notes: Indiana shot 50 percent in the first quarter, but trailed 32-24 at the end of the period. Chicago outrebounded Indiana 12-6 in the first quarter. ... The teams combined for just one turnover in the first 12 minutes. ... The Pacers honored their ABA championship teams from 1969-70, 1971-72 and 1972-73 at halftime. All surviving members of those teams were invited. ... Indiana had just its sixth sellout crowd of the season.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved