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Richard Hamilton back where he started vs. Wizards

Richard Hamiltreturned Saturday after missing last 12 games. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Richard Hamilton returned Saturday after missing the last 12 games. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 31, 2013 6:51AM

It seemed like an exaggeration when Bulls center Joakim Noah referred to life under coach Tom Thibodeau as a dictatorship last month.

But Thibodeau sounded every bit the strongman Saturday, making it clear how minutes will be distributed now that the Bulls are closer to full strength.

“Whatever minutes you’re handed … I think that’s a cop-out, like, ‘Well, I need more minutes.’ … No, play well with the minutes you got; that’s how you get more minutes,’’ Thibodeau said. “You back it up further, practice well, because usually when you practice well, you play well. Then when you do have an opportunity, get out there and perform. But it’s how the team is performing, not necessarily how an individual is performing, but how the team performs.’’

The subject came up on the same night that shooting guard Richard Hamilton (torn plantar fascia in left foot) returned to the starting lineup after missing the last 12 games. Marco Belinelli filled in admirably, and Hamilton’s absence was barely felt. Belinelli averaged just over 15 points with Hamilton sidelined.

But the idea of Belinelli staying in the starting lineup was not up for discussion, especially because Thibodeau likes the veteran experience Hamilton brings.

At the same time, December gave the Bulls a glimpse of what life would be like without Hamilton if they decide to trade him in the next seven weeks, which is a real possibility.

Belinelli proved he can match Hamilton’s scoring output, Jimmy Butler showed he can provide depth and Kirk Hinrich got practice looks at shooting guard.

Guarded return

Hamilton was on a minutes watch even before the injury that cost him almost a month, so that didn’t change in his return against the Wizards.

“We want to manage his minutes,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s at the stage of his career where I think you have to be careful, and we’ll do that.’’

Body count grows

Avery Johnson was the second NBA coached fired this season, and it hit home with Thibodeau.

“I know Avery; I coached him,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s a hell of a guy and I think he’s a great coach, and it’s the unfortunate part of this profession. It seems like it’s awfully quick.’’

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