Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is nearing a return to the court following his ACL injury last season. According to The Chicago Sun Times, Rose looked healthy as he worked out before the Bulls played the Boston Celtics.
In the weakened Eastern Conference, the Rose-led Bulls are the only legitimate threat to take down the reigning champion Miami Heat.
The Bulls have been forced to grow up without Rose. They have come together to post a 23-15 record through the start of the season. They've gotten better throughout the year and have won seven of their last 10 games.
While the record has been extremely impressive, the best sign for the Bulls is the continued development of role players. The play of Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler has made the Bulls a strong team with good depth. Add in Rose, and the Bulls will be better than they've ever been during Rose's career.
The biggest question mark for the Bulls will be how well and how quickly they are able to fully integrate Rose back into the lineup. With a return sometime closely following the all-star break, the Bulls would have around 25 games to get their team chemistry up to par.
They've done a great job to hang around the top contenders in the conference. They are currently fourth in the conference and only three games back of the Heat. If they can continue to hang around, Rose will give them a chance to improve towards the top two or three seeds.
At this point, the Miami Heat look primed for another run through the East and into the NBA Finals. While the Heat haven't been as good as last year, there just doesn't seem to be a team in the conference that could hang with the Heat during a series.
The New York Knicks looked great to start the season, but have fizzled over the last 10 games with a 5-5 record. They have plenty to prove that they're ready to make a run at a title. Carmelo Anthony is playing MVP-worthy basketball, but his playoff record speaks for itself.
With Rose back in the lineup, the Bulls are the team that has the potential to bring down the Heat. Rose presents a dangerous threat to tear up the Heat defense.
In the Finals last season, Russell Westbrook was able to find success against the Heat despite poor three-point shooting (3-of-22). He averaged 27 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. That type of success can not only be replicated by Rose, but improved upon.
The Bulls defense would be able to at least slow down LeBron James. He would certainly get his numbers during the series, but the big bodies of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah present a physical challenge.
The Bulls may not actually be able to beat the Heat in a seven-game series, but with Derrick Rose returning, they have the best chance of anybody in the East.