Bulls seeking more after making conference finals

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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were stocking the trophy case the last time the Chicago Bulls were this good.

Derrick Rose wants to add to the collection.

The league's youngest MVP has his sights set on the biggest prize of all as the Bulls get set to open the season Sunday on the road against the Lakers.

Chicago came close last year but ultimately fell short, losing to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals after winning 62 games during the regular season.

"Our goal is to win a championship, and I think that we have a decent shot with the guys that we have coming back," Rose said. "I have a lot of belief in my teammates, and I know that they have a lot of belief in me and a lot of confidence in me as a player. That's all we need."


The Bulls boast the reigning MVP in Rose and Coach of the Year in Thibodeau. They won more games than any other team during the regular season after back-to-back .500 records and first-round playoff exits under Vinny Del Negro. Even so, it all seemed like an incomplete thought, a sentence without the proper punctuation.

They were looking for that championship exclamation point -- and they still are. That five-game loss to Miami lingers.

"Last year was definitely an unbelievable experience, a lot of highs and lows," Joakim Noah said. "Being able to play in those big games against Miami was great, but it was definitely hard to lose the way that we did. It took me awhile to get over it. I watched the games a lot in the summer. It was very disappointing, but at the same time, it definitely makes you hungry."

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The Bulls have plenty going for them, and they might be better equipped to withstand the condensed, lockout-induced sprint of a schedule with Rose leading one of the deepest rosters.

They addressed their need at shooting guard by signing Richard Hamilton, giving them another scoring option and the height they were seeking to match up with Miami's big wing players. One concern: At age 33, the 6-foot-7 Hamilton is coming off a difficult season with Detroit. But he also helped lead the Pistons to a championship during his nine-year run with them.

Beyond that, improvement from within will determine just how far the Bulls go, and to that end, Rose wasn't resting on his accomplishments last season.

He spent the summer honing his inside game after expanding his shooting range in the past.

"He actually did some of that last year," Thibodeau said. "It wasn't real noticeable because it wasn't a primary option, but he got to it. ... I think he has an idea now of what he's trying to get to and how he can get to it."

But it's not just on Rose to continue that steady rapid rise from Rookie of the Year to All-Star to MVP in his third season. Carlos Boozer and Noah staying healthy will go a long way toward determining the Bulls' success, too.

Boozer sat out the first month of last season because of a broken right hand after agreeing to a five-year, $75 million contract. Soon after he returned, Noah was out for 30 games with a torn ligament in his right thumb.

When they were on the court together, Chicago won in a big way. The Bulls were 24-5 when they had both their top big men.

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Boozer was also limited by a turf toe injury in the postseason, and he went from averaging 17.5 points while shooting 51 percent in the regular season to 12.6 on 43.3-percent shooting in the playoffs. Fair or not, fans let him hear it, but he went to work in the offseason.

He showed up to training camp about 20 pounds lighter, and the Bulls are noticing the results.

"He's moving very well," Noah said. "He's a very hungry player right now."

He's not the only one. Last season only whetted Chicago's appetite.

''I felt like we had the team -- we still do -- to win the whole thing," Luol Deng said. "But going into this year, we've got to focus on us -- what we've learned from it and how we can get better. We can't just focus on one team. There are a lot of good teams in the East, but we've just got to focus on where we've got to get better and what we've got to do this year."

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From left, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, 2011-12 NBA preview