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Jamal Crawford wanted an encore with Bulls

Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich passes ball gurad Marco Belinelli first quarter Chicago Bulls-L.A. Clippers NBA game Tuesday December 11 2012

Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich passes the ball to gurad Marco Belinelli in the first quarter of the Chicago Bulls-L.A. Clippers NBA game Tuesday December 11, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 12, 2012 1:20PM

Guard Jamal Crawford signed a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers before the season. When that deal ends, he’ll be 36 and might not have much basketball left.

Unless there’s a trade, Crawford’s hopes of returning to play in Chicago are slim. Oh, but what could have been.

After his 2010-11 season with the Hawks — which ended against the Bulls in the playoffs — Crawford had high hopes that he’d be paired with Bulls star Derrick Rose for the 2011-12 season and beyond.

But the Bulls were looking for a short-term solution, and they eventually settled on Richard Hamilton.

“Yeah, it was very close,’’ Crawford said Tuesday. “I had some very good talks with coach [Tom] Thibodeau, and they were definitely one of the teams that was right up there. I just didn’t want to take a short-term deal, and it’s ironic because that’s what I ended up taking [with the Trail Blazers]. But for a while, I was just waiting to see how things would shake out.

“There was a lot going on, so I just had to wait it out. In doing that, [the Bulls] signed Rip.’’

Not that it hasn’t worked out for Crawford, who’s a huge piece off the bench for a Western Conference powerhouse. So could there be a swan song with the franchise he started off with out of Michigan?

“It would be a ways away, but, yeah, this is a great city,’’ Crawford said.

Quick healer

Unable to return for the second half of the Knicks game Saturday because of a sore left elbow, guard Kirk Hinrich was back in the starting lineup Tuesday.

“It says a lot about his toughness,’’ Thibodeau said. “Kirk is one of those guys that I don’t measure statistically. I measure him by the way he’s running the team, how he’s leading our defense.’’

Better ‘D’

Entering the game against the Clippers, the Bulls’ defense had allowed 87.4 points per game over its last eight, strong evidence of improvement.

“I think we’re just understanding Thibs’ system a little better and trying harder,’’ center Joakim Noah said.

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