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Crawford’s role a key one for Hawks

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Before the Bulls open their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks tonight, their former guard Jamal Crawford said he’s not coming to Chicago for any revenge.

“There are no hard feelings,” said Crawford, who played his first four NBA seasons with the Bulls before they traded him to the Knicks in 2004.

“I have nothing but good memories about the time I lived in Chicago and played for the Bulls. I’m grateful they acquired me [in a draft-day trade with Cleveland] and gave me a chance to play and gain valuable experience. They did what they felt was best for them. I was hoping that I could help lead them to the playoffs . . . but it didn’t happen.”

Still, don’t expect Crawford to have warm, fuzzy feelings for the Bulls in general, and Derrick Rose in particular, when he leads the Hawks against them in this series.

Yes, lead. Crawford, winner of last season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, still is coming off the bench. But don’t let his quiet demeanor fool you. He’s coming off that bench with offensive thunder as the Hawks’ leading scorer, averaging 20.5 points per game and shooting 45.9 percent from three-point range.

“Shhhh, don’t tell nobody,” Crawford laughed.

But the 6-5, 200-pounder is no secret anymore, if he ever was. Crawford might be the main reason the Hawks ousted the Orlando Magic in six games and made Magic point guard Jameer Nelson pay dearly for telling Rose that ‘‘we’ll see you in the semifinals’’ on national TV during a postgame interview involving Rose.

“Yeah, we all saw that, and it really made us mad,” Crawford said. “It was like they were taking us for granted and were sure they would win and advance to play the Bulls.”

The Hawks scored a 103-93 upset win in Game 1 in Orlando. Crawford had 23 points and five assists.

‘‘Dwight Howard got his 46 points and 19 rebounds, and Jameer scored 27 points,” Crawford said. “But we shut down the rest of the team.’’

Did the Hawks think Rose was an accomplice of Nelson in that perceived slight?

“Not at all, because Rose didn’t say that,” Crawford said. “Rose was having an interview, and Jameer just came up in the middle of it, hugged Rose and said, ‘We’ll see you in the semifinals.’

“So we don’t fault Rose at all. Rose is having an outstanding season, and that’s great. Good things happen to good people.”

Does Crawford support Rose for MVP? “I’d just rather keep that to myself,” he said. “We don’t want to say anything that would inspire the Bulls. We’re coming there to do our best to beat them, and it’s going to be a tough, physical series.”

The Hawks will be minus starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, who has a thigh injury. Hinrich played his first seven seasons in Chicago before the Bulls traded him to Washington last summer to dump his salary to help acquire free agents like Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans.

“Losing Hinrich is very painful to us because he runs our team,” Crawford said. “But that just means that [backup] Jeff Teague will have to step up — plus, I will be playing some point guard, too.’’

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