CHICAGO — Derrick Rose had that twinkle in his eyes, that same relentless confidence he had when he won the NBA MVP award what seems like an eternity ago.
The rhythm is coming back. The comfort level is growing. Rose is beginning to feel like himself again.
"You all are going to be surprised by the way that I am playing. Just give me a little minute," he said with a sly grin. "I know where I am going to be. I know how good I am, and I'm very confident with my craft and how good I am. Period."
Rose showed more flashes of his All-Star form during Chicago's 105-80 victory over Brooklyn on Wednesday night. He scored seven straight points during an impressive stretch in the second quarter, converting a three-point play before driving inside for a layup and making nifty floater off a feed from Pau Gasol.
Rose finished with 23 points, going 8 for 15 from the field and 4 for 5 at the line. He also went 3 for 7 from 3-point range after struggling from beyond the arc in the previous two games.
"I thought he was more aggressive in general the whole night," coach Tom Thibodeau said, "and that's what we need from him. He's got to continue to do that. I think the more aggressive, the better, the better it is for our team."
Rose also played almost 24 minutes in his eighth consecutive start. Racked by injuries the past two seasons, this is his longest run since he made 11 straight starts for Chicago from Feb. 20 to March 12, 2012, according to STATS.
"I felt good. It felt like I haven't played the game right now," Rose said in Chicago's locker room after the victory, "and that's no disrespect to the other team. Just feel great. My body is healthy. Mind is good, spirit is good, just trying to keep it going."
That has been the trick for Rose since he was limited to 39 games during the 2011-12 season and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against Philadelphia. He missed the next season altogether, and then played in only 10 games last year before a right knee injury shelved him for the rest of the season.
He worked off some rust while playing for Team USA in the Basketball World Cup, but the beginning of the NBA season has been marked by starts and stops, with Rose and the Bulls opting for a cautious route that has frustrated a fan base eager to see the Chicago native on the court.
Rose, 26, sprained his left ankle in the Bulls' home opener against Cleveland, and then missed four of the next five games. He strained his left hamstring during a 100-93 win at Toronto on Nov. 13 and then missed four more games before starting his run of consecutive starts.
While Rose's health is an important development for Chicago, the point guard's most replayed move of the season might have been when he wore a black "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt during warmups before Saturday night's 112-102 loss to Golden State.
The shirt was a reference to Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a police officer placed him in a chokehold when he was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A recording of Garner's arrest showed him gasping "I can't breathe" during the fatal encounter, and thousands have protested a grand jury decision not to indict the officer. Other NBA players have followed Rose's lead and worn similar shirts.
Rose's sporadic play at the start of the season hampered his ability to get used to the players around him. The Bulls bolstered their offense by signing Gasol and Nikola Mirotic and drafting Doug McDermott this past offseason. Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are much different players than they were when the 2011 MVP was a fixture in Chicago's lineup.
"I think all this is just a learning experience, with the team, especially with myself, haven't played in two years," Rose said. "So just picking and choosing when I'm going to go out there and do what I am going to do. Really have to pay attention to detail, how the game is going and try not to let it slip that far down."
Even after all that time on the sideline, Rose remains a big key to Chicago's success. The Bulls (13-8) are 4-1 this year when he scores 20 or more points.
"Like I always say, he makes a lot of things easier for a lot of different people on the floor," Butler said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap