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Bulls use numbers game to fill void left by Omer Asik

Joakim Noah blocks shot by Chandler Parsons. Noah scored just eight points 32 minutes Bulls’ loss. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Joakim Noah blocks a shot by Chandler Parsons. Noah scored just eight points in 32 minutes of the Bulls’ loss. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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The facts: 6, CSN, 1000-AM.

Updated: January 27, 2013 6:32AM

The Houston Rockets overpaid for Omer Asik and still are getting more out of him than they expected. But do the Bulls miss him?

Asik was a key player on the Bulls’ second unit last year, mostly as a defender and rebounder. With veteran Nazr Mohammad averaging six minutes a game, they haven’t really replaced Asik. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, in effect, are filling the void.

‘‘I don’t see it as a hole [in the rotation],’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘That’s part of the NBA. You’re going to lose some guys. And it provides an opportunity for others, and they have to be ready to take advantage.

‘‘I think Jo [Noah] playing more minutes has helped Jo develop. We liked having both of them. It didn’t work out for us. We’re happy for him. He’s a great guy. He did a great job for us here. But I think we’re doing it collectively. Taj is playing more at the 5. Nazr plays against the size centers. We have to do it as a team.”

McHale lauds Omer

It didn’t appear there were enough fouls available to allow Asik to expand to starter’s minutes — he averaged nearly six a game per 48 minutes with the Bulls last season. But more playing time appears to have improved his game.

Asik came into Tuesday night’s game averaging 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds — fourth in the NBA — in 30.7 minutes. He’s shooting 59.8 percent from the line (up from 45.6 percent last season). And he’s averaging 3.9 fouls per 48 minutes.

‘‘Any time you ask someone to stretch their role from spot minutes, you’re never sure what you’re going to get. But Omer’s been fantastic,’’ Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. ‘‘It’s a great opportunity for him to grow and he has. His offense has been growing. His free throw percentage is way up. I think a lot of that’s just confidence. I just see a more confident player.’’

Even Asik’s dreaded hand-eye coordination appears much improved.

‘‘I told him to catch the ball and he seems to be doing that pretty well,’’ McHale said.

Rip still day-to-day

Richard Hamilton, who has missed the last 12 game with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, is getting closer to returning but has yet to practice.

‘‘We’re just going day-to-day,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘When he’s ready to go, he’ll go. But he’s doing a lot more.’’

Holiday cheer

Noah took the microphone before tipoff to wish all Bulls fans ‘‘Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas ... And enjoy the game,’’ he added.

Sun-Times columnist Jenny McCarthy presented the ball for the opening tip. Six dancing Santa’s and their helpers entertained the holiday crowd at halftime.

Tuesday night’s game was the Bulls’ third consecutive on Christmas. Last year they beat the Lakers 88-87 in the season-opener after the lockout on Derrick Rose’s runner with 4.8 seconds left in regulation.

The Bulls came in 10-6 overall on Christmas, including 7-0 at home. The Rockets were 2-4 on Christmas, 1-4 on the road.

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