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Article updated: 12/30/2012 8:23 PM

Bulls coach plans to preserve veteran Hamilton

By Mike McGraw

Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 17 points in Saturday's 87-77 victory over Washington, and he should continue to play heavy minutes, even with Richard Hamilton back from a foot injury.

Coach Tom Thibodeau shared some thoughts about the shooting-guard rotation after Sunday's practice at the Berto Center.

"Both guys are critical for us. The big thing is managing Rip's minutes so he can remain healthy," Thibodeau said. "That's what I'm really concerned about."

Hamilton had been out since Dec. 1 with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He scored 9 points in 15 minutes Saturday, while Belinelli logged 33 minutes off the bench.

Hamilton expects to be on a minutes limit of 15-20 per game until further notice. The Bulls host slumping Charlotte on Monday afternoon.

"I told coach, 'Don't worry about my endurance part,'" he said. "I've been able to control that and do all the right things my whole career, always staying in shape. I still feel to this day I'm probably the best-conditioned athlete in the NBA at my age (34)."

Hamilton felt fine Sunday, although he admitted the foot is still sore.

"There's no way that I can hurt it any further than what happened -- it tore," he said. "That's a benefit for me when I'm out there playing now to really stop on a cut and take the contact, because I know I can't hurt it any more than what it is."

Hamilton also promised to push Belinelli to keep playing the way he did against Washington. Belinelli was aggressive, taking a team-high 16 shots, a big difference from when he came off the bench early in the season.

"I think everything with him is just confidence," Hamilton said. "I'm going to put pressure on him to continue to play that way, because we're going to need him. We're going to need every guy on this team."

Deng clogs bench:

This was a minor factor in the Bulls' victory over Washington, but a major surprise considering the history: Luol Deng, the NBA leader in minutes played two years running, sat out the final seven minutes of the contest in favor of Jimmy Butler.

"It was just the way the game was going," coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "I thought Jimmy gave us some energy and right now we're playing low energy.

"I thought that energy was something we needed. His defense was very good. I thought Lu played well. It's just the way that group was going; we just rode it out."

Following the game, Deng offered no complaints.

"I really didn't mind. It happens," he said. "It's a lot of games we play. I thought guys did a good job."

Finally, Butler was asked how it felt to force Deng into some rare bench time. The veteran forward still ended playing a team-high 37 minutes.

"Good, knowing that (Deng) can get a little break for one," Butler said. "He plays darn near 48 every night. I know he's happy about it over there soaking in his ice bath. It was good to go out there and play and have him coach me up from the sideline."

Rose takes step forward:

There was no sign of Derrick Rose on the court when Sunday's practice ended, but coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that Rose has been participating in parts of practice recently.

"He's doing all the non-contact stuff in practice and none of the contact stuff," he said. "He's doing well overall.

"He's right where he's always been. Each week he'll do a little bit more. He's doing more basketball stuff, but still he's not anywhere close to playing. He's got a long way to go for that."

Bull horns:

Kirk Hinrich skipped Sunday's practice, mostly to get some rest. Coach Tom Thibodeau said there are a few nagging injuries the team is hoping will improve. Besides owner Michael Jordan, the Charlotte Bobcats have a trio of former Bulls on the roster. Ben Gordon was traded from Detroit this summer and is averaging 12.8 points off the bench. Power forward Hakim Warrick has been starting lately, while forward Tyrus Thomas has been out since Nov. 17 with a muscle tear in his leg.

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