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Bulls coach mixing things up with Rose out of the lineup

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Throughout his two-plus seasons as Bulls coach, it’s a tossup whether Tom Thibodeau’s least favorite media topic is injuries, playing time or playing rotations.

Getting dental work might rank higher.

And so it fit that Thibodeau stood in a Bradley Center hallway late Saturday night, downplaying question after question about a fourth-quarter rotation featuring veterans Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton.

“If we’re doing the right things, we have a pretty good idea of who we want to finish with,” Thibodeau said.

Tea-leaf readers would theorize Boozer and Hamilton don’t play consistent enough defense to land in Thibodeau’s preferred closing lineups. But without Derrick Rose, this is a new season, one in which the Bulls are offensively challenged more often than not.

Whatever the case, no reserve played more second-half minutes than Taj Gibson’s meager 7-minute-19-second stretch on Saturday. Through 12 games, it has been fairly evident this is a mix-and-match season without Rose. So there’s no telling if the sticking with the starters motif will stick.

But for one night, Boozer and Hamilton enjoyed the ride.

“We want to be out there every fourth quarter,” Boozer said. “But that’s Thibs’ decision. This is his show. He runs it. He puts out there who he wants out there and we just go with the flow.”

Added Hamilton: “Thibs rode me. And the guys did a good job of trying to find me. We took our time and got the easy basket. We went to mismatches.”

The Bulls have been a controversy-free zone since Thibodeau took over. That’s in part a byproduct of the massive winning. It’s also a testament to Thibodeau’s in-house approach.

And, yes, Joakim Noah joked inside the visitors’ locker room when he reprised one of his favorite lines about the fastest coach in NBA history to 100 victories.

“Like I’ve said for a long time,” Noah said, a playful smile forming, “it’s a dictatorship out here.”

Regardless of whether Thibodeau settles on a consistent closing lineup, this is for certain: Noah will be out there. And that sentence doesn’t even need the typical qualifier of “barring foul trouble” much anymore.

Noah has been a revelation beyond his improved conditioning. Averaging a career-high 39.2 minutes, he has fouled out of just one game and is averaging just 2.75 fouls per game. This from a center who averaged more than three fouls per game in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.

“I haven’t really been conscious about that,” Noah said. “I’ve just been playing the game. I still think I have to do a better job of trying to control the paint. But it’s harder because I’m guarding stretch (power forwards) a lot. Right now, it’s about our mindset and being on the right thing, the right rotation at all times. We have to be ready and focused on the next play and not be frustrated out there.

“My mindset has been helping the team win.”

Asked if he thinks this is the best he has ever played, Noah paused.

“I feel great physically, but I just want to get better,” he said.

Asked if he thinks he’s the best center in the Eastern Conference, Noah paused again.

“I don’t know, man, you tell me,” he said. “I’m an energy guy at the end of the day. I take pride in that. I think people who know the game appreciate my play. Those who don’t, I appreciate them too.”

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