GREENBURGH, N.Y. — For some Knicks, Tuesday night’s preseason opener against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden is a chance to break a sweat, another step in preparation for the regular season. But for Derrick Rose, it’s something more.
It’s his birthday — he’s turning 34 years old — and it’s not so much a celebration as it is a chance to prove himself again as he returns to a game for the first time in 291 days.
It was Dec. 16 when Rose last saw game action. He sat out the rest of the season as he underwent ankle surgery and then needed another surgical procedure to resolve an infection.
“It’s always gonna be a challenge, and that’s what I was just talking to my oldest brother about,” Rose said. “It’s always gonna be a challenge. It’s always gonna be — we called it a problem. Either it’s gonna be small or big. It’s how you deal with it. And I would put that in the category of — my surgery is small. The worst I went through was getting the pus out a few times. Other than that, I haven’t had any problems.
“So I feel very healthy. I feel like I’m gonna play in a lot of games, and yeah, I’m just thirsting to go out there and play. I feel lighter. I’m moving a lot better. I’m not worried about my shot. My shot looks great. I’m just ready to go out there and just help by any means.”
He’s been back on the court for training camp, 20 pounds lighter than he was last season. Most NBA players spend their summers playing pickup games, but Rose avoids those and bypassed the normal injury recovery progression of three-on-three, then four-on-four and five-on-five.
“Typically when people come back from injuries, they put you in these scenarios — one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-two, three-on-three, all that type of stuff — but I like just jumping back into the game,” he said. “The staff is kinda nervous when they’re not there that the first time I was here or the second time I was here, because it’s kinda unusual. But I feel like I’m a gamer, like I’ll figure it out. It’s not like I’m running 100 miles an hour like I used to. I kind of tailored my game to what it is now. I’m just trying to keep people off my body and I’m shooting a lot.”
“That’s the big thing is his health,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you get to where he is in his career, the important thing is to be light and lean. He made a serious commitment to it right from the end of last season, put a lot of time in this summer, and hopefully it gives him his best chance at being healthy. We know if he’s healthy he’s a terrific player and he’s a big plus for the team.”
Rose’s decision to pass on the pickup games is no accident. It’s a decision to avoid giving opponents a hint of a scouting report until they face him in season.
“Never did, since high school,” he said. “ . . . I just worked on my game. At that time when I first started, I didn’t want nobody to see what I was working on. If you play pickup — so many pickup games — you could see people’s tendencies. I want that to actually to be in the game and you can’t adjust right away or the coach has to make the adjustment for you.”
Notes & quotes: Quentin Grimes has been doing a little bit more every day in practice but will be held out of the game with a sore left foot. Jericho Sims (groin) and Svi Mykhailiuk (groin) are questionable.