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No Rose, no Gasol, no problem as Butler leads Bulls past Clippers

LOS ANGELES – So much for the highly-hyped Derrick Rose-Chris Paul showdown on Monday night.

Hard for it to take place when only one of them showed up.

The other? Rose, and his latest injury of the day – a strained left hamstring – missed his second consecutive game, and the sixth of the 11 games the Bulls have played this season.

And with no Pau Gasol (strained left calf), it had the makings of an ugly start to the Circus Trip.

Good thing the Bulls players don’t get caught up in perception, as they overcame a 14-point first half deficit and beat the Clippers 105-89 at the Staples Center.

“We played with an edge,’’ center Joakim Noah said of the win. “When you play with an edge like that, you’re going to have a better chance of winning the ballgame. The last game [against Indiana], we played with no edge to us and we got our [butt] kicked by a team that’s probably not as good as the Clippers. That shows you that the mindset going into a game is everything.’’

Noah would know, as he had 11 points and 16 rebounds, looking like the All-Star from last season.

Jimmy Butler led the way with 22 points, while Taj Gibson added 20 points, six assists and five rebounds, lifting the Bulls to an 8-3 record.

Three of those wins have come without Rose.

“For sure, especially when you have knee problems or knee injuries,’’ Rose said, when asked about making sure everything is healed up 100 percent before he goes back onto the court. “Hamstrings are huge in the process of coming back.’’

The good news for the Bulls was that Rose was progressing. He did participate in the Monday morning shoot-around hours before the tip off with the Los Angeles Clippers, as he continued to get the rust off of his game, playing in just 15 regular-season contests since the 2012 playoffs.

And while it would seem to be yet another setback in getting Rose back to a dominant player, the 2011 league MVP considered it just a small bump in a long season.

“No, it’s too early to say that [this is a major setback],’’ Rose said. “Every game I felt like I had control of myself and the game as far as playing the way I wanted to play. Missing shots is part of it. But I felt whenever I was out there, it wasn’t the rust where I look terrible. If anything, it helped my confidence knowing that being out two years and being able to come back and play with these great athletes that are on this level. It gave me confidence every game and every day.’’

Not that Rose needs affirmation from his teammates – current and former – but the fact that Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy and former teammate Luol Deng have each come out over the last week and defended Rose against critics that feel like he’s been coming up too soft this season, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Or unwelcomed.

“Just in awe that people really care about me,’’ Rose said. “I think I have a small circle. But everyone in my circle is everyone that has been in my life ever since I was born or 3rd grade with my close friends. Happy to have those guys and happy to have that feeling that I know I’m going to be all right.’’

As for a timetable for Rose, according to coach Tom Thibodeau, there isn’t one. The Bulls won’t play again until Thursday in Sacramento, but Rose remained day-to-day.

“We’ll just see where he is [each day],’’ Thibodeau said.

A very common theme these days.


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops