CHICAGO -- C.J. Watson has the same pregame routine these days. He limps towards the training room and gets treatment.
Usually it consists of ice for his sprained left ankle and, in some cases, a pain-killing injection. He gets the ankle taped, goes out and plays 30-35 minutes, and then shoves the same ankle back into a vat of ice before getting more treatment. The only time the limp goes away is during the game, and even then it reappears from time to time. The key for Watson and the Chicago Bulls is that he remains on the floor.
With Derrick Rose out of the lineup (groin), Watson was pressed back into action on Wednesday against the Miami Heat despite the fact his ankle was still giving him some trouble. With Rose still hurting, Watson has had to do even more on a gimpy wheel. Never was that more evident than on Saturday night when the veteran point guard dropped 20 points in a 89-80 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. With Rose out, somebody had to step up and lead the way offensively -- Watson was that guy.
"I think C.J.'s a warrior," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He's somebody who's still playing injured, but we need him to play. For him to come back like that just shows the sacrifice he's making for the team. Not playing for five, six games, coming back against Miami; throwing him in the fire and stepping up for us, controlling the game. Point guard is not an easy position to play and Speakington, as we call him, he was huge."
Like so many players this season, Watson has dealt with various injuries that would have crippled other teams. Instead, his production only underscores the fact that the Bulls are deeper, and stronger willed, than almost every other team in the league.
"We play so many games that there's going to be stories throughout the year," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "Whether we're making shots or our defense is struggling, we're going to go through that. It's just how we get out of it. We've gone through a lot this year in terms of injuries; whether it's our defense not being great, not making shots, and we've been able to just find ways to win games with those struggles. It's just a sign of how good we've become as a team. In the past, since I've been here or even last year a little bit, there's games early in the season that we lost just because were struggling at one thing and we just allowed that to defeat us."
Deng, like the rest of his teammates, was happy to see Watson produce through the nagging ankle injury.
"I know he's in pain, but he played great tonight," Deng said. "It's been that type of season. Everyone's probably got something. Some people got more injuries than others, but everyone's got something going on by now. We just got to hang in there. We've got enough to just do the little things for us to win."
That's the way the soft spoken Watson sees it as well. He knows he could continue to sit and let his ankle heal up, but he also realizes that his team needs him to win, especially as they continue to play without Rose.
"I just try to do what I can in the time that I get, with the opportunity that I get," Watson said. "Just try to fight through it and go from there. There's not much that I can really do."
That seems to sum up the attitude of the whole team. They know they could use all the injuries as an excuse, but they choose not to do so.
"It just says a lot about our team," Deng said. "In the past, you have one guy go down and it's a totally different team. We got an MVP go down and we're still capable of playing with any team in this league."
That's the type of mindset Tom Thibodeau has instilled in this team. He wants them believing that they can win every game no matter who is on the floor. He never wants them to use an excuse as a reason for despair. Every player is playing through some kind of pain -- Watson is just the latest example of what can be achieved when the pain is overcome by mental toughness. The biggest compliment towards Thibodeau and his players is exactly what Deng discussed. Rose has missed 13 games this year, yet the Bulls continue to find ways to win.
"We're definitely missing [him]," Deng said of Rose. "Derrick is the key to the team. We're just finding ways, though. We're finding ways. We're making adjustments, it's different when he's not playing. We've just got to find ways to win the game. I thought [against] Portland we didn't do that. The end of the game didn't go our way and we just couldn't find a way to win that game. I thought tonight, with the bad start, we got back to just playing hard and doing what we do."