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updated: 4/21/2011 10:43 PM

Bulls still having to prove themselves

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If the Bulls wonder why they don't get more respect when NBA title contenders are ranked, all they have to do is look at game tapes of their playoff against the Pacers.

The Bulls are up 3-0 in the best-of-seven, first-round series after Thursday night's 88-84 victory at Indiana.

Many national critics, maybe most, weren't overly impressed by the Bulls during the regular season despite their NBA-best record.

Then the Pacers extended the Bulls to the limit in all three games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

The Bulls are making it too exciting against Indiana, making a sub-.500 team look too formidable.

So the questions being asked are what will happen against the Celtics or Heat or Magic, similar victories or a hard fall?

People do seem to like the Bulls, Derrick Rose likely will be voted the league's Most Valuable Player, and Tom Thibodeau will receive votes for coach of the year.

Yet there are a couple of reasons the Bulls aren't favored by many to win the NBA title. Not the least is that players must win a championship before they can be called champions.

Another reason is the Bulls are unique among elite NBA teams. Their reputation is for being well coached, having one special player and working harder than the next team -- rather than being deep in stars.

All season the Bulls reacted to results unlike most teams do in any sport. Every game was important to them, and it's difficult to recall an NBA team that was more bothered by losing in, say, January.

When Rose missed a critical free throw or made a careless turnover or simply didn't will the Bulls to victory, he looked like a kid whose Legos were taken from him.

This approach started with Thibodeau driving the Bulls. His uncompromising approach filtered through a receptive Rose down to receptive teammates and collectively they took every loss personally.

So the perception persists that the Bulls won on attitude more than ability, a strategy that doesn't often translate to postseason success because everybody has that mind-set in the playoffs.

Even the Pacers are playing as hard or harder than the Bulls. Critics project that a team with more premier individual players will beat the Bulls in a future round.

Meanwhile, those same skeptics figure that playing that hard for that long will have to wear down the Bulls sooner than later.

Rose has done so much for the Bulls so consistently, doesn't he have to be exhausted at some point even though he's a frisky 22-year-old of strong mind and body?

It's easy for naysayers to notice that the Bulls have a hole at shooting guard, that Carlos Boozer hasn't been dependable lately, that Joakim Noah has battled injuries for a while, that Luol Deng always has been a play away from breaking down in his career

So they assume that this magical ride the Bulls have been on will have to end before the finish line.

Anyway, it's so easy for critics to be negative about a team like the Bulls until it goes ahead and wins its first championship as a group.

So the Bulls exceeded expectations throughout the regular season and now are expected to prove themselves all over again in the playoffs.

Three uninspiring victories over the Pacers did little to ease the doubts about the Bulls.