ORLANDO, Fla. — About the only certainty from the Bulls' stretch run has been uncertainty.
"Usually at this time, everybody kind of has the luxury to know exactly who is playing, what the rotations are," Joakim Noah said. "We don't have that luxury because of various reasons. We just have to keep building. I still believe in this team."
That team finally should be whole, if not Wednesday at the Magic then at some point this week. For the first time since undergoing arthroscopic right knee surgery Feb. 27, Derrick Rose landed on the injury report as something other than "out."
Officially, Rose is listed as questionable. The former most valuable player has participated in four contact practices without issue and Friday marks the end of the four to six week timeline for his return officials presented after his procedure.
Rose will participate in Wednesday's morning shootaround and a determination on his availability will be made before tipoff. It's unlikely the Bulls would start Rose with a back-to-back set of games. So if he does play against the Magic, he could sit Thursday's road game against the Heat.
The Bulls also face the 76ers at home Saturday. Whatever the case, Rose, who has missed 20 games and will play limited minutes initially, is scheduled to return this week.
The Bulls have gone 10-10 in Rose's absence.
"We've gone through a lot of adversity this year," Noah said. "Guys come in every day and work hard. We just have to keep progressing. We're confident. We know Cleveland is a very good team. But we believe in ourselves."
This belief is based in part on the fact the Bulls are a stellar 15-4 in the 19 games their starting five of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Noah and Pau Gasol is intact. Add in a bench rotation of Kirk Hinrich — also listed as questionable for Wednesday as his hyperextended left knee continues to improve — Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks and this is a deep team.
Tony Snell, who has had some big games this season, has faded lately and likely is headed for spot duty whenever the Bulls reach full strength.
"We have showed signs this year we can be competitive with some of the better teams," Hinrich said. "Granted, we haven't been completely healthy at all this year. But I think we have good pieces. We have good character. In a seven-game series, we have a good chance."
Rose's return will allow the Bulls to try to form some much-needed chemistry in the few remaining games. Given that the ball will be in Rose's hands often, teammates have spoken openly about this need for time together.
The Bulls own a one-game lead over the Raptors' for the Eastern Conference's third seed, though the Raptors have the tiebreaker by virtue of being a division winner.
The Bulls are a much deeper offensive team than the one Rose dominated to lead to the 2011 conference finals. His presence alone forces defenses to make a decision, often choosing to double-team him.
As coach Tom Thibodeau has said several times over the last week, nothing but good can result from Rose's return.
"I don't think anybody on this team is selfish," Noah said. "These next five games are very important for us. We just have to get better."