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Bulls can’t get Rose, Rip back soon enough after Pacers’ 80-76 win

Bulls center Joakim Noah sinks hook shot first half IndianPacers 80-76 wover Chicago Bulls December 4 2012 United Center. |

Bulls center Joakim Noah sinks a hook shot in the first half of the Indiana Pacers 80-76 win over the Chicago Bulls December 4, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 5, 2012 12:07AM

Life without Derrick Rose has been hard enough to deal with.

Life without Rose and now veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton while facing an Indiana Pacers team with Central Division title aspirations? There are only so many defensive sets on coach Tom Thibodeau’s dryboard to try to overcome that.

Thanks to 34 points from Pacers forward Paul George and an apparent no-call on Luol Deng with five seconds left, the Bulls dropped to 8-8 on the season in an 80-76 loss Tuesday night at the United ­Center.

‘‘In my eyes, he got wiped out,’’ Thibodeau said of Deng’s drive. ‘‘In my eyes, wiped out. He had a layup. It was a train wreck, a train wreck.’’

With the Bulls trailing by two, Deng made a back-cut toward the hoop, got the pass and was going up for the layup when Pacers center Roy Hibbert — all 7-2 of him — seemingly made contact with Deng, knocking him to the ground. No whistle was blown.

‘‘I got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled,’’ Deng said. ‘‘I didn’t want to do anything to get a tech or anything. I’m mad at myself that I didn’t get a shot up. When he contacted me, I should have just somehow — I lost the ball — but if I would have got a shot up and even if I missed it, I think a teammate would have got the rebound. I’ve got to do better with that play.’’

The Bulls were forced to foul David West, who made both free throws with five seconds left, ending any comeback hopes.

‘‘I don’t put it on the officials,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’ve still got to get it done. It was a tough call that went against us. We shot ourselves in the foot.’’

Rose was at the arena Tuesday, shooting by himself hours before the game while the anxiety about his return continued to climb.

A source told the Sun-Times on Monday that several Bulls players believe Rose could be back practicing with the team before Christmas. Nothing was said Tuesday to dispute that, even as the Bulls’ protocol on the subject seems to be to say as little as possible.

‘‘He’s going to be back. I hope soon, but right now it’s important for us to win games,’’ guard Marco Belinelli said.

How soon? Thibodeau wasn’t budging on answering that.

‘‘He’s doing fine, but we’re not going to get into daily updates,’’ Thibodeau said of Rose, who has been rehabbing from surgery last May to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.

Asked if there was any chance Rose could be back practicing with the team by the end of the year, Thibodeau said: ‘‘Who knows? He’s a long ways from that. But he’s doing well.’’

Hamilton tore the plantar fascia in his left foot in the Bulls’ win over the Philadelphia 76ers, and the hope is to have him back in a week or two.

‘‘Rip definitely helps us a lot,’’ Bulls center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘But no excuses. It was a game that was definitely winnable.’’

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