By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- After back-to-back losses, the Chicago Bulls received some good news regarding Derrick Rose. Despite the team's recent struggles, however, Rose is being cautious about returning too soon.
Rose will be a game-time decision Thursday night when the Bulls host the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics.
Chicago has been without Rose for 21 games this season, including the last 11 for a groin injury. The Bulls (42-13) are 7-4 during the latest stretch, losing the last two for their first two-game skid of the season.
Rose could return as soon as Thursday, though. He practiced Wednesday, taking contact for the first time since the injury. Still, he wasn't ready to declare himself ready to go against Boston.
"I really don't know. I felt good, but me playing tomorrow, I don't know. I'm able to run a little bit more, but not at my top speed," Rose said.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose has been increasing his activity each day and said whether he'd go Thursday would depend on how Rose felt in the morning.
"His speed and quickness looked really good," Thibodeau said. "It was very encouraging."
Rose's return can't come soon enough for the Bulls, who lost 92-78 at Oklahoma City on Sunday, then failed to protect a 13-point, third-quarter lead in a 99-93 home loss to Houston on Monday.
The consecutive defeats ended their 86-game regular-season run without back-to-back losses.
Luol Deng led Chicago with 24 points while Carlos Boozer had 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Rockets. The Bulls, two-games in front of Miami for first place in the Eastern Conference, had 19 turnovers and allowed Houston to shoot 55.8 percent in the second half.
"Right now I'm disappointed in the way our team is playing," Thibodeau said. "One thing I know about this league is that things change quickly. ... We have Boston coming in who is playing great basketball. Every night you have to be ready to fight."
Rose has missed the last two games against the Celtics (30-23), which the teams split, after playing in Chicago's 88-79 win in January. All three games have been defensive battles, with Boston averaging 84.7 points and the Bulls 89.3.
The Celtics have been impressive defensively recently despite having a five-game winning streak snapped with an 87-86 loss to red-hot San Antonio on Wednesday.
Boston rallied from a 17-point deficit in the first half, but Paul Pierce's potential game-winning shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"I think I got to a good place. Just missed the shot," Pierce said. "These things are not really pre-scripted. You get into pressure situations, sometimes they make and sometimes they don't."
Ray Allen returned after missing six games with a sore right ankle and had five points and seven rebounds. Avery Bradley scored a team-high 19 points and Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 11 assists.
While the Celtics have held 10 straight opponents under 100 points, Wednesday was not their best effort. They gave up 59 points in the first half - 32 in the second quarter - and were outrebounded 53-39.
Boston, which has won 15 of 21, will try to bounce back Thursday - a task that could be easier if Rose is out. The league's reigning MVP has averaged 28.0 points and 6.8 assists his last six games against the Celtics, including 25 and seven in January's victory.
Likewise, Rajon Rondo had his best game against the Bulls with Rose out, scoring 32 points to go along with 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a 95-91 win Feb. 12.
Updated April 4, 2012