MIAMI -- Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose wants to make one thing clear as he gets set to play against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night in his first regular-season game in more than a year and a half.
"I think I'm way better as a player," Rose said before Tuesday's shootaround. "My IQ has gotten higher and just the way that I play I think I'm a more efficient player. And my teammates allow me to play the way I normally play, so that's a blessing."
Rose was dominant during the preseason and demonstrated a long-range shooting touch he didn't have consistently before the injury. He also says he has gained five inches on his vertical leap since having reconstructive surgery on his left knee in May 2012.
He is not showing much nervousness as he gets set to face off against the reigning NBA champions.
"Just having fun," Rose said. "It's a regular game to me. Going out here, doing something. I've been missing this game for a whole year, so [I'm] coming out here enjoying myself and playing this game that I love playing."
Like Rose, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to take things in stride.
"It's just the next step," Thibodeau said before the game. "I thought he prepared himself well for training camp. He handled the preseason games well. And now we begin the journey."
Rose also doesn't want to make any predictions regarding another MVP award. Rose famously asked before the start of the 2010-11 season, "Why can't I be MVP of the league?" This time around he is focused on a bigger prize.
"I'm just trying to play the game," he said. "Of course, I would want to come out here and be the best player, but my goal is to just come out here and try to win a championship."
As for the Heat, Rose took LeBron James' comments in stride regarding the rivalry between the Bulls and Heat. James said Monday, "We don't like them, they don't like us. It's not unheard of. We all know how it is."
"It's just competing," Rose said. "Of course, they've got something that we want, so for us we can't hold back, we got to keep going. For them, they have great players on their team where they're trying to three-peat. They won two already so it's a little bit of a rivalry there.
"I think the competitiveness in all of us -- it leads to this. Where you feel like you hate one another but you're just trying to get the same things."
Rose was appreciative of the fact James and Heat teammate Dwyane Wade said recently they were happy to have him back in the league, but the 25-year-old is just trying to focus on trying to make his team better.
"It feels good when them type of players say good stuff about you," Rose said. "But I can't get caught up into that. I'm just worrying about what's going on with the Chicago Bulls."