LOS ANGELES --- It didn’t take long for DeMar DeRozan’s presence to be felt as the Chicago Bulls practiced at the Galen Center on the USC campus Saturday afternoon.
To get to the practice gym on the second floor, one had to pass the “DeRozan Family Weight Room.” Once inside the gym, a gigantic poster of DeRozan backing UCLA’s Jrue Holiday down from DeRozan’s lone season playing for Tim Floyd at USC hung high on the wall.
And if those signs weren’t enough, there DeRozan sat, two of his daughters in tow, pointing to his return from his latest right quad strain for Sunday’s matinee against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I feel good,” DeRozan said. “Everything’s a go. Regular-scheduled programming. It was just really sore after those three marathons that I ran. But I’m good, got a lot of treatment these last couple days---ice, recovery.”
DeRozan referenced the two double-overtime games the Bulls won in four days against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, with a back-to-back against the Miami Heat after the Timberwolves game for good measure.
DeRozan then left the rematch with the 76ers on Wednesday in the third quarter after he re-aggravated the quad injury that has plagued him since Jan. 9 and cost him a total of seven games, most in January and February. He’ll return on Sunday after missing Friday’s victory in Portland.
DeRozan missed all seven shots and scored only four points in that 76ers game he left early, a night on which he also drew a flagrant-one and technical foul on the same play.
“I just couldn’t get no lift on anything,” DeRozan said. “It just was extremely sore. I was trying to fight through it to loosen it up and see if I could catch a rhythm. It just didn’t give way, so I didn’t want to risk it. We were already down.
“I’ve been feeling it since January. I just find ways to get through most of the games. Just that game was the worst as far as soreness. It takes a lot for me to sit out a game. I just wanted to take care of it these last couple days and get rid of the soreness.”
The Bulls face big games in this back-to-back set against the Lakers and Clippers on Monday. All three teams are fighting for playoff or play-in positioning. The Lakers and Bulls own the fifth- and sixth-best winning percentages since the All-Star break.
“As a competitor, you love those moments,” DeRozan said. “Teams are going to be engaged. Crowds are going to be engaged.”
The 2021-22 Bulls announced their arrival with an early-season, back-to-back sweep of the Clippers and Lakers in November 2021. DeRozan shot 69.2 percent while scoring 35 points against the Clippers and 38 against the Lakers, who he thought he’d be playing for before that franchise pivoted to Russell Westbrook and DeRozan ended up with the Bulls.
Now, Westbrook is with the Clippers. And DeRozan is focused on bigger things than showing the Lakers what they missed.
“They see it. I don’t think it’s my main motivation,” he said. “There’s always a motivation factor just because it’s home. I love coming home, playing against any historic team regardless. It’s not like I’m upset and, ‘Oh, I gotta get y’all back.’ I’m just excited to go play in whatever they call it---the Crypto?”
That’s a nod to the arena that houses the Lakers and Clippers changing from Staples Center to Crypto.com Arena.
Where USC plays is named after Louis and Helen Galen, longtime Trojan fans who donated $50 million to the university. DeRozan didn’t shell out that much to have a weight room bear his name----“it’s an undisclosed amount,” he said, joking---but he has stayed connected to the program even though he only played one season in it.
“Me being from here played a big part,” the Compton, Calif., native said. “It just didn’t end after I left here. I work out here every summer. I come back all the time. I been to a couple games. Every year, I try to make it to at least one football game. I stay locked in to the school even though I went for a year.
“Even the year I was here, I think we were the only team to win the Pac-10 tournament. So there was a lot that was done in my time here. The relationships that I built, I held on to that after all this time and always want to be connected.
“I always try to figure out ways I can help. Whenever guys come through here, I always try to stay in contact with them. If they need help from me, advice, I always try to be that one player that is always accessible. “
And on Sunday, DeRozan will be available for the Bulls.