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Derrick Rose returns for 18 points, Butler has 25 as Bulls hold off Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — Tom Thibodeau is tired of an asterisk in his pregame starting lineup.

The Bulls coach seemed fed up with talk of hamstring strains and ankle sprains, discussions on burst and anything else medical-related these days.

He still has high hopes that star guard Derrick Rose will “take off’’ at some point and that it will happen sooner than later.

A 97-95 victory against the Utah Jazz at the Energy Solutions Arena on Monday was a good start. Playing in his first game since Nov. 13, Rose had 18 points and five assists in 24 minutes 37 seconds of action. He went 5-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-5 on three-pointers.

“Oh I don’t know, Jesus,’’ Thibodeau said, when asked if Rose looked fatigued. “Gotta get out there and play, you know. I thought he did a lot of good things. You can see he’s not real comfortable with the ball yet, but that will come. When Derrick strings some games together, he’s going to take off. He’s gotta go. That’s the bottom line, he’s gotta go.’’

In other words, it’s time.

“To me, it’s been time,” Rose said. “Every injury is a setback a little bit, but as far as emotions and everything, how hard I work, just being consistent with how I’m feeling, being positive. … It’s been a minute since I’ve played, so this is the first one. Now it’s behind me, and on to Denver.’’

Returning from a hamstring injury and playing in just his sixth game, Rose was worth the wait early on. He scored 10 points in his first eight minutes, going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc.

The Bulls then watched a 21-point lead turn into a nail-biter. They can thank Jimmy Butler for his 25 points and Mike Dunleavy for a go-ahead put-back layup with 22 seconds left.

As for Rose, who had a “game-time decision’’ asterisk next to his name in the projected pregame starting lineup, he scored just five points in the second half, but made a key three-point play with two minutes left.

That would have meant very little, if the Bulls (9-5) had lost their third game in a row. Especially since it was just the third time the true starting unit of Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dunleavy and Butler has played together.

“Yeah, you know there’s a lot of rust,’’ Thibodeau said. “You can’t build chemistry unless they’re playing, practicing, working together. If you include the preseason, it hasn’t happened a lot.’’

Having Rose and Gasol (strained left calf) back was Step 1, but now they have to stay on that path, especially with Butler carrying so much of the team these days.

Besides the 25 points in just under 44 minutes, Butler made four steals. Gasol had 23 points and nine rebounds.

“[Butler] plays at an incredibly high intensity level all the time, and that’s how he practices, that’s how he plays,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s into it and it shows.’’

The telling moment of the night came when Thibodeau was asked if he thought he would have Gasol and Rose for the back-to-back game in Denver on Tuesday night.

“I would hope so … geez,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ll see tomorrow, I guess.’’

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SHW4JYUO-g&w=560&h=315]

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops