CLEVELAND – It’s supposed to be this week.
It sure sounded like this week.
It even felt like this week.
Then again, everything with Derrick Rose seems to come with a warning label: Proceed with extreme caution.
“Well, we’re hopeful,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said on Sunday, when asked if he felt Rose was close to returning from Feb. 27 right knee surgery. “Everything has gone according to plan. He’s got to keep taking the contact on [in practice], keep moving forward, and hopefully it will be soon.
“We’re watching, we’re talking, but he’s got to feel comfortable enough to be out there.’’
Rose was at least comfortable enough to tell ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters that his return would be “likely sometime this week,’’ as the point guard was shooting around before the game with the Cavaliers.
The clock is ticking.
“Ideally, the sooner the better, but he’s got to be comfortable enough to play,’’ Thibodeau warned. “We’re not going to play him the amount of minutes he was playing before he got injured. We’ve got to re-establish a baseline, something where he can get his feet wet and start moving forward, and the next part of his rehab is to actually play in the games.
“It’s a step-by-step process, he’s got to work his way through it, and then that will be the next step.’’
After losing to Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena, 99-94, the Bulls (46-31) have just five regular-season games left. When Rose first underwent the surgery, the original timetable was four to six weeks, and Friday will be that six-week mark.
He’s seemingly running out of steps, especially if he wanted to get back and get some sort of rhythm going before the high-intensity of the playoffs begins.
Maybe that’s why Thibodeau seemed to keep the expectations a bit tempered.
“It’s not going to be anything other than get out there, give us the best you have,’’ Thibodeau said. “Run the team. We don’t expect him to be great. Just run the team, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses, and just concentrate on the improvement each and every day. If he does that he’s going to be fine.’’
“Fine’’ might get it done in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but a potential showdown with Cleveland and Bulls-slayer LeBron James in the second round? Hopefully, Sunday wasn’t a preview.
Not only did the Cavs (50-27) play circus ball with the Bulls, as J.R. Smith hit a three-pointer near half-court before the halftime horn and then Kyrie Irving hit a 52-footer in the third, but finished the afternoon hitting 16-for-37 (43.2 percent) from beyond the three-point line.
Smith set an NBA record by firing off 17 of those threes (making eight), without shooting a two-point attempt.
Meanwhile, all James did was score 20 points, hand out 12 assists and grab 10 rebounds for the triple-double.
The Bulls were led by Mike Dunleavy, who scored 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
One stat that couldn’t be overlooked? Seven turnovers from Rose’s replacement Aaron Brooks.
“You can take a lot out of it, good and bad,’’ Dunleavy said of the loss. “If we see them down the line, you know, the playoffs are a different ballgame. We know each other pretty well and hopefully we’ll be ready to battle.’’