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Bulls’ Nate Robinson takes some of his game from the playground

Guard Nate Robinscould come handy considering Kirk Hinrich’s recent rash injuries. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Guard Nate Robinson could come in handy considering Kirk Hinrich’s recent rash of injuries. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:17PM

Somewhere in the airspace between the court and the rim, there was that ‘‘Coach isn’t gonna like this’’ moment.

But Nate Robinson has to be Nate Robinson.

So rather than take an uncontested layup midway through the second quarter of the Bulls’ preseason game Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, Robinson threw the ball off the glass to teammate Jimmy Butler for an easy dunk.

Minutes after the game, when coach Tom Thibodeau came into the locker room and yelled, ‘‘Nate, can I see you?’’ Robinson couldn’t help but resemble a kid going to the principal’s office.

It was a false alarm. For now.

‘‘Not yet, but I know it’s coming,’’ Robinson said when he was asked if the meeting with Thibodeau had to do with his playground pass. ‘‘I ain’t going to do it again, tell you right now. Good thing it’s the preseason because in the playoffs . . . I’m laying that up. I looked back and saw Jimmy; the connection was there. Hopefully I helped him make ‘SportsCenter.’ ’’

The Bulls hope the 5-9 Robinson is around to do more than that this season. He is the insurance plan, the backup to point guard Kirk Hinrich. And, hopefully, the backup to the backup for Derrick Rose when the injured superstar is ready to
return from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

What Robinson was Tuesday against the Bucks was the entire package. He scored 24 points, handed out 13 assists and had two steals. More important, as far as Thibodeau was concerned, he didn’t commit a turnover.

‘‘He’s put a lot of work into it,’’ Thibodeau said of Robinson taking care of the ball. ‘‘He made another step [Tuesday]. I thought he was really under control, did a great job running the team, hit shots. But we have a long way to go. We still have a lot of things to clean up.’’

One thing Robinson isn’t concerned about cleaning up is his reputation. Robinson, the only player to win the NBA slam-dunk contest three times, joined the Bulls this offseason with some baggage. There was a brawl that ended up going into the stands when Robinson was with the New York Knicks in 2006, and there was the label that he was more intent on being the class clown than the star pupil during his days with the Boston Celtics.

Robinson has heard it all and said there was more fiction than fact about him floating around out there.

‘‘Google can’t define me, man,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘My mom, my kids, my family, I really don’t care what anyone else says about me, what they think about me. I know who I am inside, and that’s all that matters.

‘‘Some people think I’m cocky or whatever, but I know it’s confidence. I’ve never been a cocky person where people can say, ‘Oh, he’s just an ass----.’ I’m grounded, man, but I just like to have fun. I walk around with a smile all the time so no one can read me. I want people to think I’m always happy. I don’t know, I guess I’ve got the great poker face.’’

Considering the Bulls have more than a few players — starting with center Joakim Noah — who are less than popular nationally, Robinson would seem to be in the perfect place in Chicago.

And if he was more trouble than he was worth, Thibodeau — who coached him as an assistant with the Celtics — wouldn’t have added him to his roster.

Thibodeau knows the on-court persona Robinson brings comes with the package. But it’s only a matter of time before the other shoe drops on plays such as the backboard pass to Butler.

‘‘Sometimes you’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit,’’ Robinson said.

Yeah, he’ll fit in just fine.

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