INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bulls came into Monday night's 92-90 win over the Indiana Pacers having won six games in a row and nine of their past 10, but star point guard Derrick Rose was convinced his team can get even better as the season progresses.
"I think we can," Rose said before Monday's shootaround. "I don't want to jinx ourselves, but I think we can really make a run for this [championship] this year. But it just takes focus, discipline, and we got to sacrifice a little bit."
Rose, who has been singing the praises of this group since it was put together over the summer, said that it is nice not to have to carry so much weight offensively. Fourth-year swingman Jimmy Butler and veteran big man Pau Gasol are playing at an All-Star level, taking a lot of pressure off Rose's shoulders as he continues making his way back from two serious knee injuries.
"It's a good feeling," Rose said. "First time I've ever had that while I've been in the league. It takes a lot of pressure off everyone, where someone can easily go off for 15 or 20 points within a couple of quarters and put the [opposing] team away pretty quick. It's fun. We don't take it for granted, and we just know that we could always improve every day."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau echoes those sentiments. He is pleased with the way his team is performing; he just doesn't want the players to lose focus.
"I think we're moving in the right, the last 10 games, we're moving in right direction," Thibodeau said. "I think [we're] playing strong on both sides of the ball. We're getting a lot of contributions from different people. And it's been good, but we have to be able to sustain it and keep building."
Rose is just happy to be back on the floor and contributing. He has missed a total of 10 games this season, including two a week and a half ago because of an illness. Thibodeau is happy with the way Rose has been able to "string games together," and Rose is learning how to take over late offensively again.
"I think I played all right," Rose said of his recent performances. "I'm picking and choosing when I'm going to have my time during the game, and really just the fourth quarter. Really being aggressive during that fourth quarter where I have a five- or four-minute stretch where I could do whatever I want."
Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich went through all of Monday's shootaround, but missed his fourth straight game because of a strained left hamstring.
"He's better," Thibodeau said. "He's pretty close. We'll give it another day and see where he is [Tuesday]."
Butler missed shootaround because of personal reasons, but Thibodeau expects him to play Monday night.