The big question: When will Rose play?

CHICAGO -- When will Derrick Rose return?

That's the only question Chicago Bulls fans seem to care about these days. Sure, they want their team to win, but fans understand that if Rose isn't healthy for the playoff run, the Bulls' hopes of winning a title will disappear.

As much as coach Tom Thibodeau preaches a no-excuse policy, he's also a realist. He knows that his team needs a healthy Rose in order to chase down the Miami Heat in June. That's why he and the organization are being even more cautious as it pertains to Rose's groin injury.

Thibodeau has repeatedly said that Rose is a game-time decision over the past couple weeks, but Rose is still at least a few days from returning to the floor. The only running he's done up to this point is on a treadmill and he still looks hesitant while taking set shots on the Berto Center floor after practices and shootarounds.

Thibodeau has said that he would like to see Rose and injured guard Rip Hamilton go through some contact in practice before coming back to game action. If that's the case, that would mean that both would be out Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks because the Bulls aren't practicing Tuesday. Still, Thibodeau sounds optimistic about both men returning soon.

"Just the fact that they're doing more and more on the court," Thibodeau said. "I'm watching how they're responding to things. Each day they do more and more, then the next day there haven't been any repercussions, so that's good. So it's step by step, but I'm encouraged."

When it comes to injuries with the Bulls, one must read through the tea leaves, though. Thibodeau does not like to disclose anything until the last possible second because he doesn't want to give an opponent even the hint of an advantage. That's why Rose's comments after Monday shootaround were so interesting. The reigning MVP made it seem as if Hamilton would see the floor again before he did.

"He's looking good," Rose said of Hamilton. "He's moving way better than I am right now. He's in practice. I'm just on the side just watching. But he's moving good. If anything, I think that he should be ready to play any given night."

The guess here is that both will remain out until at least Thursday. The Bulls fly back from Atlanta right after the game Wednesday night and may practice later in the afternoon on Thursday. If that's the case, it will give Thibodeau a better gauge as to where both players stand heading into Friday's game against the Detroit Pistons.

Unless Rose makes some serious improvements, that game may be out of the question as well. It all depends on how he responds to treatment over the next few days. The last thing the Bulls want to do is rush Rose back and then see him go down again, as was the case with Hamilton already this season. The Bulls don't want to put either man back on the floor until they know they are feeling as close to 100 percent as possible. As far as pain goes, though, both Rose and Hamilton understand that they will be dealing with it for the rest of the year, no matter when they come back.

While their teammates would love to see both men back, like Thibodeau, they believe they can win in the short term without them. Kyle Korver summed up that theory nicely after Monday night's loss to the Nuggets.

"We miss him every night," Korver said of Rose. "We miss him when we win. Come on, it's Derrick Rose. We've won lots of games scoring 91 points or less. We've just got to play better defense. We can do that with or without Derrick."