ORLANDO -- Derrick Rose has gotten so good at closing out games this season that even when does, and his team racks up yet another win (the 60th of the season), he still doesn't sound happy about it. Rose believes that despite what everyone around him thinks, the Bulls aren't championship-ready just yet.
"No, not yet," he said after Sunday's game. "We're pretty close, but we haven't proven anything yet. We're still trying to get there."
What else does he have to see to know they're ready?
"Play a 48-minute game," he said. "Play defense throughout the whole game, rebound, [have] low turnovers. I could go on and on, but we're not there yet."
If that reads familiar, it's because it's the exact same thing coach Tom Thibodeau has been saying almost every day all season. If you're looking for another reason for the Bulls' success this season, look no further than that. Rose has bought into everything Thibodeau is selling -- when your best player does that, things usually fall into place. That's what happened yet again on Sunday afternoon. Playing against a Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic squad, the Bulls started out strong in the first quarter, but looked flat until the final few minutes when Rose took over.
He's become so confident in his abilities that he can see exactly what his team needs and then do something about it. In this case, it was offense down the stretch, and he provided it in the form of 39 points.
"Derrick was Derrick," Thibodeau said. "You can't ask anything more of him."
Without Howard in the middle to slow him down, Rose repeatedly got to the rim whenever he wanted.
"It's not an accident," Thibodeau said of Rose's continued improvement over the season at the end of games. "His confidence and his poise comes from his preparation. He puts a lot into it, and I think along with the experience he's gotten, he plays with a lot of poise. The more pressure that he has, he doesn't get rattled. He's seen all the different defenses now and he knows the things he's trying to get to."
Rose agreed. But, as has become his custom, he noted that the thing that truly got him motivated to succeed late in games were people doubting that he could.
"I remember last year and the year before that being in them situations and the media would tell me, 'You're 7-for-39 in these situations,'" Rose said. "I remember that. Everything. And I use that as motivation towards the end. You learn the situations, you know how people guard you. And you just try to make it easy on yourself."
By making things easy on himself, he once again made things easier for his teammates. With Rose on the floor, the Bulls believe they can win every game. With Rose and Thibodeau setting the mental tone for the team, you realize what makes them think that's possible. Just winning isn't satisfying enough anymore. There's a standard that's been set this season, and Rose doesn't want to see the Bulls slip at all as they head into the final two games of the regular season.