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Bulls' Rose poised to make history with impending playoff appearance

Through Monday, the Bulls had won eight of 11 games to climb into a tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. And it's been Derrick Rose -- once again the chart-topper in SI.com's Rookie Rankings -- sparking Chicago's surge.

As Rose's prolific Rookie of the Year campaign roars down the home stretch, the point guard picked up a ringing endorsement from an unlikely source: New Jersey's Brook Lopez, himself a prime contender for the award. Lopez didn't mince words when asked which first-year player would get his vote.

"Derrick," the Nets' center conceded to the Newark Star-Ledger. "Derrick's changed his team so much, obviously. They're definitely a [contender] for the playoffs. ... I think he's done more for his team. He's shouldered more of the load."

Dating to the 1980-81 season, only six No. 1 overall picks helped their team into the postseason as rookies: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani. It could be a matter of days before Rose becomes the first backcourt player to turn the trick during that span.

(All stats and records are through Monday.)

NBA Rookie Rankings
 
1Derrick Rose
Last Week: 1
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Rose ranks second among rookies in scoring (16.6 ppg) and minutes (36.8 mpg) and first in assists (6.2) and modesty. When pressed to evaluate his rookie season with a letter grade, the South Side native proved a harsh self-critic. "I'd probably go with a B or B-minus," Rose told the Chicago Tribune. "We haven't won enough, and I've committed too many turnovers." Sure, he's averageing 2.5 giveaways, but Rose's self-effacing stance is laughable considering his impact on Chicago's turnaround. After tallying 16.9 points, 5.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds in March, Rose was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.
 
 
2Brook Lopez
Last Week: 2
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Lopez had 20 points and 10 rebounds Saturday in Chicago for his 16th double-double of the season, eclipsing Mike Gminski's franchise record for rookie centers. But Detroit's victory over Charlotte just hours later eliminated the Nets from playoff contention, undermining Lopez's Rookie of the Year candidacy. Though the team-oriented and individual goals may be dashed, don't expect Lopez to stop playing hard through the end of the season. "There are a lot of good rookies out there," Lopez told the Daily Herald. "I performed as best I could, put my best foot forward. I'll continue that until the season's over."
 
3Russell Westbrook
Last Week: 3
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Rookies don't expect to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to officiating -- just ask Lopez, who's averaging a mind-boggling 2.6 free-throw attempts despite playing more than 30 minutes a game in the post -- and the referees have made no exception for Westbrook. The UCLA product almost lost his cool Friday after taking a vicious Greg Oden forearm to his head while slashing toward the rim in the first quarter. The 20-year-old point guard went to the locker room but returned to finish with eight points (on 1-for-8 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists in a lopsided loss. "I don't know what to say," Westbrook told The Oklahoman. "It's something I've got to fight through. It's been going on all year long. But it's even more frustrating when you're losing."
 
4Kevin Love
Last Week: 7
Kevin Love, Minnesota Twins
Love brought home Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors after ranking third among first-year players in scoring (15.8) and first in rebounding (9.6) in March. He ranks second in the NBA after Dwight Howard in total offensive boards, despite averaging just 24.9 minutes. And with the second-half sensation quietly putting together one of the better rebounding seasons by a rookie in recent history, the Timberwolves have kick-started an 11th-hour Rookie of the Year campaign -- www.votemrlove.com -- complete with a campy infomercial for "Mr. Love Miracle Glass Cleaner," featuring Love channeling Billy Mays.
 
5O.J. Mayo
Last Week: 4
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
Here's hoping Love's Rookie of the Year politicking yields better results than Memphis' ill-fated publicity campaign for Mayo, whose numbers have languished ever since the Grizzlies unveiled three different "Vote O.J." billboards in Phoenix during All-Star weekend. The USC product is averaging a pedestrian 14.7 points on 42.3 percent shooting since March 1 -- an underwhelming clip for a fill-it-up scorer not necessarily known for his rebounding, passing or defensive aptitude.
 
6Marc Gasol
Last Week: 6
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
The ever-efficient Gasol ranks first among rookies and 13th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (53.1). "The Tank" is also one of just six starting centers with 800 points, 500 rebounds and 100 assists, joining Howard, Yao Ming, Shaquille O'Neal, Mehmet Okur and David Lee. He's managed to carry over his outstanding March form into April, averaging 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games this month.
 
7Eric Gordon
Last Week: 9
Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers
Gordon opened April with a strange, up-and-down week. First was Wednesday's impressive 25-point outing against the Hornets. Next came Friday's dud in Denver, where Gordon finished with seven points on 1-for-10 shooting in 35 minutes. Finally, Gordon rebounded in Saturday's Battle of Los Angeles, hanging 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists on the Lakers in a three-point defeat. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy praised Gordon's perseverance and ability to play his way out of slumps. "All year long, people talk about rookie walls, and I've heard along the way with a lot of these other guys, they've hit stretches," Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times. "He really didn't have any of [those] stretches. But like anybody else, he can have a series of games where that happens. But night in, night out, he's done a good job."
 
8Jason Thompson
Last Week: 8
Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings
The lone King to have played in every game this season, Thompson is still chugging as the season winds down. He's scored in double figures in 11 of 12 games, averaging 15.4 points and 9.8 rebounds. His most impressive scoring performance of the season came Friday against the Suns when the former MAAC Player of the Year had a career-high 23 points in a losing effort.
 
9D.J. Augustin
Last Week: NR
D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats
Though Charlotte's hopes for its first playoff berth are fading, Augustin has distinguished himself down the stretch in his reserve role. The 21-year-old point guard is averaging 15.1 points on 35-for-61 shooting from the field (57.4 percent), including 15-for-25 from three-point range (60 percent), in the past seven games. He scored 22 points in Sunday's loss at Detroit, his first 20-point game in nearly two months.
 
10Michael Beasley
Last Week: NR
Michael Beasley, Miami Heat
Miami's postseason ticket is punched but the Heat continue to jockey with the Sixers for the precious No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which would preclude a first-round date with Cleveland, Boston or Orlando. Beasley is offering steady contributions from the bench, averaging 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in three games over the last week. But the forward expressed disappointment Monday at not getting another shot in the starting lineup when Udonis Haslem went down with a thumb injury, citing trust issues with coach Erik Spoelstra. With the playoffs looming, it's a situation worth watching.
 
Honorable Mention
Mario Chalmers, Heat (10.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 spg in three games); Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers (missed action with back spasms); Courtney Lee, Magic (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 apg in three games); Anthony Morrow, Warriors (19.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg in three games); Marreese Speights, 76ers (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg in four games).
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