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Bulls guard Richard Hamilton hungry for crunch

Guard Richard Hamilt(32) didn’t get crunch-time minutes against Rockets Jeremy Lin. | PSullivan~AP

Guard Richard Hamilton (32) didn’t get crunch-time minutes against the Rockets and Jeremy Lin. | Pat Sullivan~AP

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:24AM

HOUSTON — Bulls shooting guard Richard Hamilton put in some heavy minutes late Wednesday night.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, they were spent with the media as he tried to explain why he has been on the bench in the fourth quarter lately.

“Like I always say, whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do,’’ Hamilton said after the 93-89 loss to the Rockets. “I’m just trying to stay positive, just trying to get better every day.’’

Hamilton said all the right things, but his body language in the huddle late in the game was that of a frustrated player.

Even more so on Sunday night in Portland. Hamilton seemed to have a problem with shooting 7-for-10 from the field but only getting 22 minutes, none in crunch time.

“One thing you have to do is just cheer for the guy that’s out there,’’ Hamilton said. “So you just try to stay positive and hope that we get the win.’’

But the Bulls have had trouble coming up with victories on the Circus Trip.

They’ve lost three regular-season games in a row for the first time under coach Tom Thibodeau.

And it’s not just the losses, but the way they’re losing.

The blowout against the Clippers was one thing, but against the Trail Blazers and Rockets, Thibodeau was searching for a unit that would give him the high level of defense that he demands, even if he had to forfeit some offense.

That meant Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer spent a good part of the fourth quarter as cheerleaders.

“You’re going with the group that’s playing well at that particular time,’’ Thibodeau said when asked about Hamilton’s playing time. “It’s not about individuals; it’s about the team.

‘‘[Houston] was a tough team to cover defensively, so I thought Taj [Gibson] and Jimmy [Butler] came in and got us going in the right direction.’’

Hamilton was only 2-for-10 against the Rockets, but at the same time, he’s also a player who has a history of making big shots, not only in his college days with Connecticut but also with the Pistons.

When that was pointed out to Hamilton, he laughed and said, “When I came, it was one of those things where whatever they need from me, I’m going to do. I didn’t want to get caught up in anything else.’’

In other words, he didn’t want a repetition of his last season with the Pistons and his cold war with then-coach John Kuester.

The relationship between Hamilton and Kuester had deteriorated to such an extent that Hamilton reportedly blew up in practice and got inches from Kuester’s face during a heated argument.

Obviously, the respect level for Thibodeau is much higher, so whether he’s frustrated or not, Hamilton is going to do his best to hide it publicly.

“We just have to play a little smarter,’’ Hamilton said of crunch time.

“You keep the guys’ heads up, and hopefully things will change when we get home.’’

Some change might come to the starting lineup. Thibodeau said after the loss against the Rockets that he would explore a new-look starting five.

Considering the Bulls have the $5 million team option on Hamilton for next season, maybe they’ll try to phase him out slowly, possibly making him a piece they can trade in a few months.

“There’s a lot of things that go into winning, and you have to do things the right way,’’ Thibodeau said.

“We can’t do the easy thing. We have to do the tough things.’’

And maybe that means some tough decisions are coming.

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