Chicago Bulls fans could be forgiven for waking up this morning feeling frustrated and disgruntled. Last night’s tough loss to the Portland Trail Blazers cost this their team far more than just another loss to their record. It also might just cost them their superstar player, the league’s MVP in 2011, Derrick Rose extended time on the injured reserve. Does an injury to Rose effectively make the NBA’s Eastern conference a two-horse race?

Rose hobbled off the court after appearing to injure his knee during the third quarter of last night’s loss. The team expects to know more today after an MRI. The good news, possibly, is that this injury isn’t to the same knee that was operated on and kept Rose out for all of last season.

Still, after waiting for their star player to return for all of the 2012-13 season, fans will be hugely disappointed with the possibility that Rose could miss significant time again this year. The Bulls showed last season that Tom Thibodeau’s well-coached defensive system combined with good depth can keep this team competitive. However, last season’s playoff action offered a pretty obvious reminder that this roster isn’t a real contender without Rose on the court.

Not only that, but the early part of the NBA season has clearly shown that Rose is rusty. He looks like a player out of rhythm struggling to work with the pace at the top level. A poor shooting percentage combined with some disappointing game control are pretty good evidence that missing a whole year has left Rose rusty. More time dealing with an injury and rehabbing off the court isn’t likely to relieve Rose’s rust.

Bulls’ players comments remained philosophical last night. They will obviously still hope that this injury is nothing serious and that Rose doesn’t spend an extended period on the sidelines. That doesn’t make it unrealistic to fear otherwise.

If Rose is sidelined, then the Eastern conference race in 2013-14 is looking increasingly like a straight shootout between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat.

The Pacers have started the season extremely strongly posting up an 11-1 record. Paul George is playing the game like a true superstar and Indiana’s tough, big line-up featuring Roy Hibbert, David West, Lance Stephenson and Luis Scola is producing just as was hoped. They were just one game away from advancing to the NBA Finals last spring, they are a tough match-up for the Heat and they are the only really dominant team in the East right now.

Miami are of course serious contenders as well. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will ensure that they remain so. This time of year is looking more and more unimportant to Erik Spoelstra’s roster. Still, they are 9-3 and will be happy to patiently wait for their opportunity to overcome the red hot Pacers.

There are actually only¬†four teams in the East with records above .500 right now. Hardly lots of competition in a conference that looks nothing less than a mess right now. The Bulls were one of those teams. The Atlanta Hawks are 8-5, but don’t have the look of a serious contender. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks look to be in complete disarray and the Brooklyn Nets are in an even worse state. It’s pretty clear that the Knicks have been weakened from one year ago, though Carmelo Anthony should at least get this team into the playoffs. Similarly, a return to fitness for Deron Williams should be enough to get the Nets into the postseason. However, this roster including Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce just doesn’t look like it is going to work anymore.

Injury worries to Rose could just about finish the only real potential challenge to the ‘big two’ picture developing in the conference.