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No looking back for Bulls

CHICAGO -- It was Mike Ditka who said, "Those who live in the past are cowards and losers."

Write that down to repeat the next time someone whines about the games Derrick Rose didn't play last season.

As much fun as it was to debate and complain about his never-realized return date, the time for dwelling in the disappointments of the past are almost over. Just a few more months until he's actually back. It's easy to forget that Rose is this city's biggest star.

Like Ditka, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't believe in dwelling in the past. At least not after he dissects tape of it.

With that in mind, the future is closer than ever for Rose and the Chicago Bulls, now that the NBA released its schedule for the 2013-14 season.

As you might expect, the Bulls are a top national draw. They're currently slated for 10 ESPN games, nine TNT games and five ABC games. Their local games will set ratings records. What's the record for a preseason game? Rose's first game back will smash it.

I looked through the schedule and tried to imagine how this season will go. After a year of Rose-free basketball, it's fun to think about him being back.

Oct. 29: Bulls open season at Miami

During the Bulls' media day, Rose gets inundated with questions about last year.

"I'm not talking about the past," he finally says. "But I promise you, you'll enjoy the future. I read and heard everything that was said about me. Y'all didn't think I didn't hear, did you? This is my city and my season. Watch out."

Fast-forward to the season opener. The "Hollywood as Hell" Miami Heat get their rings for their second consecutive championship and the camera pans to Rose staring impassively in the distance.

Rose's decision to sit out the entirety of the 2012-13 season after ACL surgery the previous spring is brought up, as you'd expect, several times by the broadcast team as the game begins, as his mental readiness is questioned.

Rose shows the world he's back early in the first quarter. After passing out of the pick-and-roll the first two times down the floor, Rose catches the Heat napping and drives the paint for a one-handed flush.

His trademark-pending "stank face" after the dunk causes the Bulls bench to behave like they're the audience of "Def Comedy Jam."

Bulls radio man Chuck Swirsky gets so excited he tweets nothing but exclamation points for 15 straight minutes.

In Chicago, some well-meaning city worker accidentally sets off the air raid sirens that spooked the city after the White Sox clinched the pennant in 1959. No one seems to mind.

Rose scores 17 points in 35 minutes in a 103-99 win over the Heat, as the Bulls continue their regular-season mastery over the champs. After the game, Chris Bosh says, "Derrick Rose was back? I didn't notice. My rings were blinding me, I guess."

Nov. 16: Bulls play host to Indiana for first time

The Pacers dealt the Bulls their first loss 10 days earlier in Indianapolis. The rivalry had turned in Indiana's favor and after that win, Paul George declared the Pacers are the favorites to win the East, even over Miami. Naturally that storyline highlights the lead-up to this game. Are the Bulls third in the Eastern Conference pecking order?

As they play the national anthem, the camera pans to Rose staring impassively in the distance.

The Pacers continue to succeed defensively by having David West and Roy Hibbert disrupt Rose out of the pick and roll, so Thibodeau brings in Kirk Hinrich to run the point and uses Rose as a 2-guard. That helps Rose cut to the paint, but it's Carlos Boozer who saves the day. Just three amnesty stories into the season, Boozer's jumper is cooking and he scores 27 points in an 89-82 win.

After the game, Joakim Noah calls the Pacers "Carmel, Indiana as hell," while crediting their defense.

Dec. 21: Bulls at Cleveland

Inexplicably, Rose and Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving missed each other again the first two games this season. Rose sat out the Nov. 11 game with food poisoning after accidentally eating the media room pregame meal at the United Center. Irving missed the Nov. 30 game after he got a rash from watching the Browns play in person.

Before this game, Rose, staring impassively in the distance, plays the HumbleBot and says he now had to reach Irving's play, which had only improved since last season.

The two combine for the best home game of the season, going at each other with ferocity. Irving scores 26, but Rose has 25 and 11 assists, helping the Bulls erase their first two-game losing streak of the season after dropping games at Houston and Oklahoma City. The Bulls are 19-7 going into the Christmas Day game in Brooklyn.

Jan. 20: Lakers at Bulls

The Bulls enter the game on a 13-1 run to push their record to 31-8. Luol Deng played all but 15 minutes in the past 14 games, 13 of those minutes coming when Thibodeau got ejected from the end of the New Year's Eve game against Toronto. (He had dinner reservations at Girl & The Goat.)

"Luol's fine," Thibodeau says before the game, and he makes dismissive hand gestures.

Kobe Bryant scores 29 in the Lakers' win, despite playing with crutches and an eye patch. Deng plays 46 minutes.

"I'm alive," Deng says after the game. Or at least I think that's what he said as his entire body and head were submerged in ice.

Amazingly, the Bulls made it through the first three months of the season nearly injury-free.

But with a month to the trade deadline, Deng rumors continue to subsist as free agency beckons.

While Rose is getting national MVP talk again, he touts Deng as team MVP, something he's done in the past.

"I'd give half my adidas money to pay Deng ... " Rose says to reporters before his brother Reggie puts a bag over Derrick's head and carries him into the training room.

Deng doesn't get traded and the Bulls don't make any moves at the deadline.

"I like our team," Thibodeau says.

March 7-9-11-13: Four home games against Memphis, Miami, San Antonio and Houston

The Bulls have a fairly easy April ending to the schedule, so this four-game stretch, followed by a March 17 home game against Oklahoma City, will be looked at as their playoff tuneup and to see if they can match the size and versatility of these contenders.

The Bulls are first in the Eastern Conference, again, with a 48-17 record coming into this stretch, and questions linger about Thibodeau playing his starters "excessive" minutes, especially after Rose plays 47 minutes in a loss to Memphis. He is averaging 36 minutes a game at this point, just fourth on the team after Deng, Noah and Jimmy Butler.

But before the nationally televised Sunday game against the Heat, Thibodeau is asked about the "minutes question" for the 175th time this season. He gets so angry that he storms into his office and forgets to tell the beat writers that Rose is missing the game with a bad right ankle.

Rose's absence before the tipoff becomes a Twitter sensation. #WhereIsDerrickRose and #TheAbsence start trending before his status is updated.

Rose comes back to score 36 against the Spurs and dunks on old friend Omer Asik to beat the Rockets in overtime.

He is the favorite to finish second in the MVP race to LeBron James, who has carried the injury-riddled Heat, but he says that's OK to him.

"I gave my MVP trophy to my mom," he says. "I don't care about any individual honors or shoe deals ..." He is cut off as his brother Reggie throws a sack over his head and carries him into the training room.

April 16 at Charlotte

With Michael Jordan sitting courtside as his Bobcats go for their 23rd win of the season in his honor, Rose suits up to help the Bulls win their 62nd game. They had already clinched home-court advantage in the playoffs over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Thibodeau offers Rose the chance to sit down, but the point guard refuses. When asked why he wanted to play, Rose stared impassively at the media and says, "Remember the last time I sat out the last game before the playoffs?"

Rose scores 28 in an easy win over Charlotte.

The playoffs beckon. Will things be different this time around?

Who knows? That's why you play the games.