Perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the NBA playoffs is the status of Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, and if the Bulls want to maintain a competitive advantage, that should continue to be the case.
Chicago was able to earn the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season by virtue of a 45-37 record and will take on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets are favored as the No. 4 seed, but the Bulls actually won the season series 3-1 and certainly stand a chance to advance to the second round regardless of whether or not Rose plays.
There is no question that the Bulls are better with Rose, but they still had a strong year without him. Rose hasn't played since tearing his ACL against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their first-round series last season. Rose would inevitably deal with some rust if he were to come back, and it's unlikely he would be the same player.
With that said, Rose returning could potentially give Chicago an emotional boost. The Bulls aren't considered a threat to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, and they probably still wouldn't be if Rose returned. Even so, the Bulls would obviously welcome any type of possible advantage.
In a lot of ways, it can be said that the threat of Rose returning is more beneficial than Rose actually returning at all. The Nets are well aware that Rose could potentially return at any time, and even though Rose would be compromised, that possibility has to be weighing on the Nets' minds.
If Rose actually does return, then he may not be effective and the Bulls' edge would immediately disappear. Keeping that mystery alive is the best thing the Bulls can do as the Nets will essentially be waiting for Rose to come back.
Understandably, the media is very curious about Rose's status and will continue to pepper head coach Tom Thibodeau and other members of the team with questions regarding Rose. It is extremely important that nobody tips Rose's hand, and that includes Rose himself.
The Bulls have done a nice job of sheltering Rose and protecting him from the tough questions for the most part, and that needs to continue. There is no point in providing the Nets or anyone else with information. Chicago has played this entire situation close to the vest all season long and there is no reason to change things now.
It's certainly possible that Rose and the Bulls have already decided that he won't return this season, but there is very little value in admitting that. If the Bulls are able to get past the Nets in the first round, Rose would gain two extra weeks to get ready and there would be even more speculation about a potential return in the second round.
The Bulls need to drag this situation out for as long as they possibly can, and even though the fans and their opponents don't like it, Chicago is in the driver's seat when it comes to this situation and shouldn't relinquish that upper hand.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter