Joakim Noah said Bulls need to focus

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- When Charles Barkley recently predicted that the Chicago Bulls were his pick to win the Eastern Conference, it didn't necessarily change the mood in the Berto Center.

In fact, Bulls center Joakim Noah said such optimism could be harmful to the Bulls if they buy into the hype.

"Poison," Noah told ESPNChicago.com Tuesday, with a smile. "We're not in the Finals yet. I love Chuck. I think he's great for the game. I love his honesty. He always tells you how he feels. But it's poison."

Barkley admitted he was going out on a limb on TNT on Thanksgiving night.

"The best [Eastern Conference] team that I've seen this year, I think the Chicago Bulls are going to win the East," Barkley said. "I love what they're doing in Chicago.

"I think the Magic have the deepest team in the East, the Celtics have the oldest team and the Heat are going to struggle, but they'll get it together. I think the Orlando Magic are going to have the best record, but the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference is the Chicago Bulls. Especially once they get [Carlos] Boozer back."

Boozer, who suffered a hand injury in the preseason, may make his Bulls debut on Wednesday when the Bulls host the Magic.

Orlando and Boston were leading the East heading into action Tuesday with a .750 winning percentage, followed by Atlanta (.611) and the Bulls (.600). Chicago has gone 1-1 since Barkley made his statement.

"To get to the Finals, we have a lot to do," Noah said. "And we have a lot of work to do. We've had a little success, and expectations are a little higher than they were in the past. But expectations don't mean anything. And I've been in situations like that [at the University of Florida], so I understand them a little bit.

"Of course, that's the goal, to be able to play in those situations. And hopefully one day, hopefully we will. That's the goal. I want to be in the Finals. But just because Chuck says it doesn't mean that we're there, ya know? We got a long way to go. We got a big game against Orlando."

Noah said if the Bulls are going to be able to live up to Barkley's expectations, they have to focus on the task at hand.

"You enjoy the moment. You live in the moment. You don't worry about the Finals," Noah said. "We have Orlando. You focus on the practice. You focus on living in the moment and not what's going to happen in the future and what happened in the past. Just enjoy the process.

"I think that's where we're at right now, and that's what I'm saying when I say poison. [I'm] not saying it in a disrespectful way. I love Chuck, but at the end of the day, it's one thing to talk about it, and it's one thing to actually live it."

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.