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"It's the challenge that you face," Thibodeau said. "It's a lot more than just surviving. ... It comes down to the teams that are playing the best and are healthiest in the playoffs. I don't think you ever want to approach it where you're just trying to get through something. You want to improve. You want to do well. You have to always keep in mind what that ultimate goal is."
The Bulls are fourth in field-goal percentage (46.0), fifth in 3-point accuracy (38.3 percent), and lead the league in assists per game (23.26). They're outscoring opponents by an NBA-leading 9.45 points on average and outrebounding them by a larger margin (5.48) than any other team.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer seem to be feeding off each other more lately after they missed significant time last season because of injuries, and Bulls players insist they're more comfortable with each other and with Thibodeau than they were a year ago.
They've had time together. They experienced highs and lows last season -- the Bulls' best since the 1990s championship era. They raised expectations -- sent them soaring, actually -- only to come up short against the Heat. And now, they're looking for more.
Are they better than they were last season?
"We'd like to think so," Deng said.
Are they good enough to win the Eastern Conference?
"All I know is, with what we have this year, I don't feel like we've peaked yet," Noah said. "We have to take it up another notch to win a championship."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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