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updated: 12/26/2011 12:57 AM

Bulls already playing like the title contender

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  • The Bulls' Luol Deng (9), Taj Gibson, (22) and Ronnie Brewer (11) celebrate as time runs out in an 88-87 victory over the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles.

      The Bulls' Luol Deng (9), Taj Gibson, (22) and Ronnie Brewer (11) celebrate as time runs out in an 88-87 victory over the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles.
    Associated Press

  • Bulls superstar Derrick Rose "embodies all the characteristics you look for in a championship player," said coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose's basket with 4.8 seconds left Sunday lifted the Bulls to an 88-87 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

      Bulls superstar Derrick Rose "embodies all the characteristics you look for in a championship player," said coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose's basket with 4.8 seconds left Sunday lifted the Bulls to an 88-87 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
    Associated Press

 
 

The best part of the Bulls' story that began to unfold Sunday is there is no doubt about the goal this season.

It's an NBA title.

Too many Chicago sports teams aspire to qualify for the postseason because anything can happen from there.

The Bulls will have none of that. Nor are they trying to simply compile the NBA's best regular-season record like they did last season or to make the championship round.

Those are mere steps toward winning the NBA title.

Derrick Rose says things like, "There's one thing on our mind and that's to win a championship. I really want one."

The journey's first step came when the Bulls beat the Lakers 88-87 in the season opener Sunday afternoon at Los Angeles.

The Bulls scored the game's final 7 points, but don't think that they stole the victory. What they did was keep the Lakers from stealing it.

This was a game a team expecting to win a championship isn't supposed to lose.

The Bulls were nearly intact from last season; the Lakers have undergone an extreme makeover.

Rose is a high-octane 23 year-old and healthy; Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is a high-mileage 33 and playing with an injured hand.

The Bulls have all their big men ready to roll; Los Angeles is missing suspended center Andrew Bynum.

Beating the Lakers in the Staples Center never is easy -- and this game certainly wasn't -- but in the end the Bulls finally won as a title contender is expected to.

Both these teams played like they hadn't had much practice time and both will have to play better as the season proceeds.

The dramatic opener was one that the Lakers normally win over the Bulls because Bryant is basketball's best closer since Michael Jordan.

This time, though, Bryant was within about five feet of a game-clincher when three Bulls converged at him and Luol Deng blocked his shot from behind.

That's what teams aspiring to a championship do. They make plays to win games they should win just when it looks like they're going to lose.

The Bulls beat the Lakers despite Rose's numbers being ordinary by his league MVP standards.

Rose didn't score in the first quarter, recorded his first points with 6:58 left in the first half and finished with 22 points and 5 assists.

What mattered more than anything, however, was that Rose's final basket with 4.8 seconds left gave the Bulls their slim margin of victory.

Maybe Rose spent most of the game waiting for a fellow Bulls starter or starters to provide him with some support.

Bulls' reserves kept them in the game and ahead at halftime despite Rose's semi-funk through much of the first two periods.

Deng turned out to be Rose's primary support in the final minute even before his decisive defensive play. He scored 5 straight points over a 40-second stretch and made a steal to set up Rose's winner.

Not surprisingly, though, everything about the Bulls still revolves around Rose ... in this game, on this four-game road trip and over the course of the season.

As Tom Thibodeau says of Rose, "He embodies all the characteristics you look for in a championship player."

You'll notice the Bulls' head coach didn't say a "great" player. He said a "championship" player.

The latter word is the one on all the Bulls' minds as they embark on this new season.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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