DEERFIELD, Ill. - Judging by the way the Chicago Bulls were talking Sunday, the loss of Derrick Rose is a setback, not a deal-breaker.
Rose, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists in leading the Bulls to a 103-91 Game 1 victory over the 76ers in their best-of-seven, first-round Eastern Conference series Saturday, was lost for the remainder of the playoffs when he suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in the final 90 seconds of the game.
The Bulls will replace Rose, who missed 27 games in the lockout-shortened regular season, with C.J. Watson. He will be backed up by John Lucas III. As others downgrade their expectations for the Bulls, the team simply isn't buying it.
"It really doesn't matter to me what people think," Lucas said after a short practice at the Bulls' training facility in suburban Chicago. "At the end of the day, we are going to go out there and do what we have to do. We have championship in our minds, and that's where I believe we're going. We have a great group of guys and everybody wants to win."
Asked whether he thought this might give inspiration to the 76ers heading into Tuesday's Game 2 in Chicago, Lucas let it be known that neither he nor the Bulls care what the Sixers might be thinking.
"I could care less how they think about what's going on or what their situation is or what they're thinking," Lucas continued. "If they think they are going to have an easy task, we are going to go out there and play."
While Lucas spoke with bravado, center Joakim Noah was much more measured in his analysis of the Bulls minus one of the best players in the NBA.
"Without Derrick, our margin for error is a lot smaller," said Noah, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds Saturday. "You can't replace a guy like Derrick. It's going to be up to all of us."
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said that while the Bulls can't replace Rose, the team will continue to pursue the goal of winning it all.
"It's not going to fall to one particular guy - you are not going to replace the greatness of Derrick," Thibodeau said. "We have to do that collectively. I don't think it's going to fall to one particular guy. I feel awful for him, but it's not going to change our goals at all."
The Bulls are at least used to playing without Rose this season. Plagued by various injuries to his back, toe, groin, and ankle all season, Rose wound up missing 27 games. With Martin - the likely starter at point guard in place of Rose - and Lucas filling in for the reigning MVP, the Bulls still went 18-9 in those games.
But Rose's value to the Bulls can't be underestimated. When he is on the floor and healthy - and he appeared to be rounding into basketball shape before the injury - Rose is one of the most lethal performers in the game, a great outside shooter but a guard who can explode into the lane for a layup or get to the foul line. He's also terrific at dishing off to teammates when the defense is drawn to him.
There is no other player on the Bulls or in this series who is capable of causing the type of mayhem and disruption Rose is capable of creating.