Forget 'JV,' Bulls move up to 'varsity'

LOS ANGELES -- The days of the Bulls serving as a "JV" team to the Lakers "varsity" are over as far as Joakim Noah is concerned. Although the Bulls lost on Tuesday, he is convinced they can play with anyone, including the Lakers.

"There's still areas that we have to improve on," Noah said. "I think that's the great thing about this team. Everybody wants to improve and everybody wants to be able to beat the elite teams. We're not there yet, but we're pretty, pretty close."

Noah enjoys the challenge of playing the Lakers.

"They've been playing together for a long time now," he said. "They have a lot of experience. They know how to turn it up in the fourth quarter. These games are good for us because it tells us where we are exactly when you play against those top teams. It tells you where you are and if you can compete against them, and we feel like we can compete against anybody."

What exactly are those areas?

"Defend the three better, our closeouts, our post defense can still get a lot better. Our talking, our talking on the helpside defense can get better. Offensively, plays, I know I messed up a couple plays down the stretch. That's something that mentally I think we can better when Tibs is making play calls. Everything. Even the things we do well, you can always get better. When you're trying to be an elite team, you can always improve, and I think that's our mentality right now."

Kobe sees difference: Noah isn't the only one who thinks the Bulls have improved. So does Kobe Bryant. When asked to compare last year's Bulls with this year's team, he acknowledged improvement in Tom Thibodeau's bunch.

"They look really good," he said. "I think they play with a lot of energy. And they executed well. They had a lot of spacing, and they kept coming."

Shannon Brown noticed a difference as well.

"They definitely have that Boston mentality with the coach over there," Brown said. "They try to load up, try to push you on the ground. They try to double team Kobe and make us do other things. They came out and played hard."

Boozer back sooner?Is Carlos Boozer closer to returning than you may think? Check out this anecdote from ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin:

"About 30 minutes after the game, several USC alumni Taj Gibson and Brian Scalabrine as well as other Bulls players congregated on the floor, meeting with friends, fans and family. As Boozer made his way through the pack, as fan asked him when he would be returning to the court. "One week," Boozer said. "Really?," questioned the fan. "One week," Boozer reaffirmed while lifting his index finger to the air and walking away."