DEERFIELD, Ill. - When the reporters waiting in the front office of the Sheri L. Berto Center received the signal that the Chicago Bulls practice was open, the group of about 20 followed the sound of bouncing basketballs and squeaking sneakers hoping to find reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose ready to discuss his health.
But, as was the case in 27 games in the lockout-truncated regular season - which concluded on Thursday with the Bulls locking up home-court advantage through the playoffs with the league's best record - Rose was nowhere to be found.
As affable a superstar as you will find in pro basketball, Rose is the player on whose performance Chicago's dreams rest for its first NBA title since Michael Jordan delivered the last of six in 1998. But he opted not to address the media on Friday, one day before his Bulls play host to the eighth-seeded 76ers on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Earlier this week, Rose told reporters, "Every day is getting better. 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.
"I love playing games, getting my rhythm back. I'm coming along, man. I'm very positive. My spirits are up."
Rose spent a huge part of the season nursing various injuries, but the Bulls don't appear overly concerned that their superstar, who sat out the season finale against Cleveland, will have trouble when the Bulls begin their quest for the championship.
"He looked good to me," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said after an extended practice that featured mostly light shooting, running through some sets, and some film. "He's ready. The key is that he's starting to show that explosiveness that's a huge part of his game.
"He's tough, and whatever the game calls for him to do he'll be ready for," Thibodeau added. "He's great at reading the game. If he needs to score, he'll score. If he needs to [make plays], he'll make plays. But physically he's feeling a lot better."
Despite missing all of those games - he appeared in just 39 of the team's 66 games - Rose still led the Bulls in scoring at 21.8 points per game and assists at 7.9. The best rebounding team in the league, Rose also chipped in with an average of 3.4 per game.
Rose missed two games against the Sixers, but the Bulls still won the regular-season series, two games to one. In the one game he appeared in, Rose torched the Sixers for 35 points and eight assists. The one game the Sixers won was a 98-82 rout in the first of two meetings at the Wells Fargo Center. Also absent from that game were Chicago starters Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng.
Rose has changed the basketball landscape in Chicago. He won rookie-of-the-year honors in his first season, and in his second year, 2009-10, he became the first Chicago player in 12 seasons to be selected an all-star. And last season he was voted the best player in the regular season.
During that three-year span, Rose missed six games to injuries. This season Rose has appeared in back-to-back games just twice since March 12.
Rose is also not the only injury concern for the Bulls. Deng and former Sixer Kyle Korver are also nursing hurts. Deng has been hampered by a torn ligament in his left wrist, and Korver has been bothered by a sore elbow for most of the season.
None of this appeared to have the Bulls too concerned.
"This is what we have been looking to all season," center Joakim Noah said Friday. "We are ready. And Derrick is ready. He's the best closer in the game of basketball. He's ready."