ORLANDO – Chicago welcomed Derrick Rose back from a 20-game injury absence on Wednesday, but he could only watch as the Bulls wasted a late lead in a 105-103 NBA loss to Orlando.
A limit on the minutes Rose could play in his return from a knee injury meant the former NBA Most Valuable Player was on the bench for all of the fourth quarter, when the Magic rallied for the win.
Rose scored nine points in 19 minutes and handed out two assists.
“I’ve been putting a lot of work in, busting my ass to get back,” Rose said before the game.
“I’m just happy that I’m able to come back to a team where I think we’re playing all right basketball.”
Rose’s return came two days before the end of the six weeks that was the maximum he was expected to miss after surgery to repair a small tear in the meniscus of his right knee.
It was Rose’s third rehabilitation of a knee injury in 34 months, following a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in April of 2012, and a right meniscus tear in November of 2013.
“This one is totally different than my last ones,” Rose said Wednesday. “The other ones I was out four or five months.”
Even so, he knows the approaching playoffs give him little time to work his way back into form.
On the flip side, he’s had plenty of rest.
“I’m coming in fresh,” he said. “It’s a little bit of excitement on my end.”
However, the Bulls’ third defeat in four games dropped them into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference with Toronto, who defeated Charlotte on Wednesday to deal another blow to the Hornets’ already slim playoff hopes.
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 19 points. Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson added 15 points apiece.
The Magic won a third straight game thanks to Victor Oladipo’s 23 points, including the go-ahead layup with less than two seconds left in the game.
Nikola Vucevic added 22 points and Elfrid Payton chipped in 17 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.