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updated: 1/15/2012 8:31 PM

Lucas making a play to stay in Bulls' rotation

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  • Guard John Lucas III reacts after hitting a 3-point shot during the fourth quarter of the Bulls' victory over Washington last week.

    Guard John Lucas III reacts after hitting a 3-point shot during the fourth quarter of the Bulls' victory over Washington last week.
    Associated Press


Common wisdom in sports says a player doesn't lose his job because of an injury.

Every rule has exceptions, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau already has made it clear that C.J. Watson would return to his backup point-guard role whenever he's fully recovered from a left-elbow sprain he suffered Jan. 1.

But John Lucas III has given Thibodeau and the Bulls some food for thought.

To start the fourth quarter against Toronto on Saturday, the coach used Lucas and Derrick Rose in the backcourt together.

It seemed to work well. Lucas and Taj Gibson combined to score 17 of the Bulls' 21 fourth-quarter points, Rose tacked on 5 assists, and the Bulls successfully navigated a week of five games in six nights with a perfect 5-0 record.

It's easy for people to dismiss Lucas because of his height, generously listed at 5-feet-11. But the dude can shoot, going back to when he went 6-for-6 from 3-point land in a game for the Bulls' summer-league team in 2010.

Lucas also helped lead Oklahoma State to the Final Four in 2004, and his dad was a lightning-quick point guard in his day.

Maybe it's possible Lucas, 29, could be a change-of-pace scoring guard along the lines of Jose Barea, an important part of Dallas' title run last spring.

Defense could turn out to be a problem, but the Bulls just gave up 64 points in consecutive home games with Lucas playing heavy minutes. It's not a daunting problem, and if it ever is, there are other players available to check in.

Of course, it's not as though the Bulls have a problem with Watson. They acquired him from Golden State before last season to be a scorer off the bench as much as a backup point guard.

So far Watson may have had trouble adjusting to lower minutes. He shot .468 while averaging 27.5 minutes for the Warriors in 2009-10, then .371 while playing 13.3 minutes for the Bulls last year.

That's just a simple law of basketball: The more shots you get, the easier it is to get into a groove. Kyle Korver shoots better when playing more minutes.

Filling in as the starter when Rose was injured for a game at Denver early last season, Watson delivered 33 points and the Bulls nearly won. He can play that role well.

Thibodeau often turned to a Rose-Watson backcourt last season when the Bulls fell behind in games. It paid off sometimes.

In the second game of this season Watson canned 3 straight 3-pointers in a futile comeback at Golden State on Dec. 26. Overall, though, he was shooting just .313 from the field before getting injured.

It seems clear that Watson will return to his usual role as backup point guard soon, and he should.

At the same time, Thibodeau shouldn't park Lucas at the end of the bench and forget about him. The Barea comparison seems much more viable than it would have three weeks ago.

Lucas is one of those classic 12th-man types who realized long ago that a positive attitude helps keep a player around. Teams don't need complainers soiling the atmosphere, at least not when they're easily replaceable.

Lucas had this to say after getting the call in the fourth quarter against Toronto: "I take it as (Thibodeau) has confidence in me. I got my teammates' back no matter what.

"He can put me in at the three, I got their back, because I just love being out there on the court. I love the game of basketball. I love to win. I can't stand losing; I hate it with a passion."

Whichever way this goes, it's nice to know the Bulls have help for Rose. He played the entire second half Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back, after sitting out Wednesday with a toe injury.

The hectic schedule continues with a Monday matinee in Memphis, followed by a home date with Phoenix. Then the Bulls finally get consecutive days off for the first time in three weeks.

They'll end up playing 14 games in 20 days and so far have gone 11-1 during that stretch.

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