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Derrick Rose affectionately blows a kiss at a family member cheering in the stands just before the start of a game against the New Orleans Hornets March 7, 2011. The Bulls went on to win the game 85-77.
Pushed hard in the opening round, Derrick Rose wasn't letting out any sighs of relief once the Chicago Bulls found out they'd be facing Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It's all well and good that he won't have to worry about getting flattened in the lane by Dwight Howard after the Hawks knocked off Orlando in six games, but he's not expecting an easy ride, either, in a series that starts Monday at the United Center.
The Bulls got all they could handle from Indiana while taking out the Pacers in five games, and Rose expects more of the same from the Hawks — except, maybe, the hard fouls.
He sees a team led by Joe Johnson that's athletic, balanced and figures to pose a threat even though guard Kirk Hinrich will likely miss the series.
"I think it's going to be tougher, with all the guys that they have in," said Rose, who had an excused absence from practice Sunday for personal reasons. "They've got guys that can really jump and contest my shots — really big guys. (Zaza) Pachulia and (Al) Horford are tough players. If anything, I'm (expecting) the worst because it's going to be a tough series."
A healthy Carlos Boozer would help, but what they'll get from him remains to be seen. He was struggling against the Pacers even before turf toe surfaced on his right foot in Game 5.
He participated on a limited basis in Sunday's practice after sitting out the previous two days. The Bulls were off Wednesday and Thursday.
"Basically, he just did a little more shooting," said Tom Thibodeau, who was announced as the NBA's Coach of the Year on Sunday. "He's moving a lot better. He did his lifting and he was on the bike. He's feeling a lot better. We'll see what he can do (Monday). Each day he's gotten better and better, so we're encouraged by that. We'll see if he can get through the shootaround (Monday), then we'll let him warm up (Monday) night and see if he's ready to go."
Many figured the Bulls would have an easy time in the opening round after breezing to a league-leading 62-20 record and securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Pacers had other ideas.
They hit hard, making Chicago players pay anytime they got near the basket, and Indiana threw the offense out of sync with its taller guards and steady diet of double-teams on Rose.
The Hawks aren't as physical. They don't have Paul George or Dahntay Jones to disrupt Rose, unlike the Pacers. More important, they won't have Kirk Hinrich, either.
The former Bulls point guard will likely miss the entire series after severely straining his hamstring in the closing minutes of the Hawks' series-clinching win over Orlando.
"He does look like he's walking better than he did the other night," coach Larry Drew said.
Even so, he's not counting on a return by Hinrich in this round.
"Kirk's a tough guy," Drew said. "I never say never. But right now, it doesn't look like it."
Hinrich's injury left Atlanta looking for a point guard to run the offense and give Rose all he could handle on the other end.
Jeff Teague figures to get the shot. A former first-round pick from Wake Forest, he will likely play a key role after failing to find any real consistency during the season and winding up with long stints on the sideline to go with the occasional start.
With the Hawks using a bigger lineup to counter Howard in the opening round, Teague barely got off the bench and played a total of nine minutes over two games, but he has shown promise at times.
"The decision I kind of have to ponder is whether to disrupt what we do off the bench versus just going back to starting him (Teague)," Drew said. "These last few days, we've looked at both situations, the things we have done, we've used him in the starting lineup and out of the starting lineup. We'll talk more about it as a staff and then tomorrow, we'll have a decision what we're going to do."
Jamal Crawford and Pachulia will also factor into the decision as well. Either way, containing Rose won't be easy. And it won't be a one-man task.
"The challenge is there, especially for a guy like Jeff, who hasn't played a lot, who doesn't really have a lot of experience in the postseason," Johnson said. "His opportunity has arrived, and we look forward to him stepping up and playing big minutes and doing positive things on the court.
"But I'm sure in the second half and down the stretch, I'll be guarding Derrick Rose."
Rose had his difficulties against Indiana, committing 19 turnovers in the series, but the Hawks simply don't take the ball away.
They forced 12.5 turnovers per game and ranked 29th in the league, and Orlando averaged 12.8 in their series. Howard committed 33 of those, with Jameer Nelson giving it away just eight times.
They'll have to do a better job on Rose, who averaged 25.3 points and had a total of 10 turnovers over three games against the Hawks.
He finished with just 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting and six turnovers in a loss at Atlanta on March 2 but looked more like an MVP in their next two meetings. He hit 14 of 15 free throws while scoring 34 nine days later in a win at home against the Hawks and hit 6 of 8 3-pointers while pouring in 30 as the Bulls won big at Atlanta on March 22.
"They're playing with confidence," Rose said. "They let a team sweep them the previous year, and to come out and beat that team ... it means a lot. They're playing with a lot of confidence. They believe in each other, and they believe they can win."