Pau Gasol, Bulls not waiting for Derrick Rose to save the day

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There will be a landing spot for Derrick Rose sometime before the regular season comes to an end.

Tom Thibodeau sounded confident of that before watching his team withstand a third quarter meltdown in beating the Detroit Pistons, 88-82, Friday night at the United Center.

What the Bulls coach remained guarded about, however, was the idea that Rose will walk on the court and be an instant game-changer.

“We’ve been down this road so many different times with him, and when he does come back obviously it’s not where he’s played the entire season,’’ Thibodeau said. “So he’s got to get acclimated to playing again, and obviously he’s not going to start off playing the amount of minutes he was playing prior to the injury. But he’ll get back, and we just have to be patient and let him work his way through it.

“I thought right prior to the All-Star Break that was his best stretch of basketball, but it took him time to get there. We have to understand that.’’

Missing the last 19 games since undergoing right knee surgery on Feb. 27 should make that process of understanding a bit easier to comprehend, but yet there seems to be growing momentum that Rose will instantly return the Bulls to the high expectations in the Eastern Conference that were there before his injury.

Thibodeau wasn’t even sure what Rose they will get when he does get back out there.

Will it be tentative Rose or the point guard that lit up the Cleveland Cavaliers for 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting back on Feb. 12?

Either way, Rose’s return is a bit different than when Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler returned from injury last month. Mike Dunleavy even admitted that fact last week, simply because Rose commands the ball being in his hands so often.

“It’s different,’’ Thibodeau said. “And we have been through it so many different times so I think our team has a good understanding of what we have to do. Of course, we have to see where Derrick is. We don’t know where he is.

“We just want him to go out there and play to his strengths, cover up his weaknesses, run the club, and we’ll go from there.’’

Where they went from on Friday was the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture to the No. 3 seed, thanks to the win combined with a Toronto loss.

They can thanks Pau Gasol for doing the heavy lifting, as the big man became the first Bulls player since Charles Oakley (1986-87) to post 50 double-doubles in a season.

“I’m happy where I am,’’ Gasol said of his current level of play. “Having fun playing the game, and being really confident and assertive. Just really in a great place.’’

And at the right time.

Gasol had 26 points and 10 rebounds, but saved his best for last, on a nasty put-back dunk and foul with 5.7 seconds left in the game that put the Bulls up four.

“I saw Taj [Gibson] wide open so I knew he would take the shot,’’ Gasol said. “I was hoping he would knock it down, but I had to get myself in good position in case he did miss and the ball bounced. I finished it off strong and knocked down the free throw for the four-point lead.’’

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