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Nate Robinson has been great, but Bulls mustn’t depend on him

Nate Robinshad 19 points sparked Bulls’ rally Friday their 87-86 victory over Orlando Magic. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Nate Robinson had 19 points and sparked the Bulls’ rally Friday in their 87-86 victory over the Orlando Magic. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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SUNDAY

BULLS AT PISTONS

The facts: 6:30, CSN+, 1000-AM.

Updated: May 8, 2013 6:38AM



Here’s a scary thought:

‘‘Nate — he’s the key to this team,’’ Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said of Nate Robinson, his effusive and explosive teammate. ‘‘The offense that he brings, the way he can easily shift the momentum of the game. That’s big on any team, and Nate’s done that for us.’’

The 5-9 Robinson is having the most productive season of his eight-year NBA career — a credit as much to coach Tom Thibodeau as to Robinson himself. He has provided a much-needed scoring spark whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. He even has had an impact in games with ‘‘team defense’’ and playmaking. The Bulls can win with him. For a player who has been on two playoff teams in his first seven seasons in the NBA, that’s a compliment.

But with all due respect to the effusive and entertaining Robinson, any team that depends on him is living on the edge. A 5-9 shooting guard with no conscience, Robinson is the ultimate hit-or-miss player who, by his own admission, has little interest in becoming a more efficient player.

‘‘I don’t know; I just play,’’ Robinson said when asked if he could find a way to eliminate his cold spells while maintaining the hot streaks. ‘‘I don’t care. I just play as hard as I can. It helps me out more by playing helter-skelter. That’s the way I’ve been playing my whole life. It won’t change.’’

Robinson’s impact looms as a bigger factor because the Bulls are seven games from the playoffs with Derrick Rose’s return looking more like a hope than an expectation. The much steadier, more defensive-minded Kirk Hinrich should be the focal point of a Rose-less backcourt. But with the Bulls so short-handed, they often find themselves in holes only Robinson can get them out of.

It happened again Friday in the Bulls’ 87-86 victory over the Orlando Magic. Robinson hit a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, another to start the fourth and scored 13 points in less than five minutes as the Bulls turned a 70-63 deficit into a 79-76 lead. The Bulls, who had made two of 13 three-pointers before Robinson’s flurry, made six of seven once Robinson lit the fire.

‘‘I just bring energy however it comes,’’ he said. ‘‘I play the game the best way I know. Some nights, I do pretty good. Some nights, I don’t. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. I’m going to play through it and play as hard as I can for as long as I can.’’

Thibodeau doesn’t tolerate players who are defensive liabilities. But he has a fine appreciation for Robinson, especially given the circumstances.

‘‘He’s a catalyst,’’ Thibodeau said.

The one thing Robinson can’t be is indispensable. The only time in his career that Robinson has played on a team that went deep in the playoffs, he was a bit player on the Boston Celtics in 2009-10, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Robinson played in 16 of the Celtics’ 24 postseason games and played eight minutes per game.

He came up big in Game 7 against the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals — scoring 13 points in 13 minutes. Five days later, he scored zero points in 13 minutes of a Game 1 loss to the Lakers. No matter the circumstance, for better or worse, Nate is always Nate.

‘‘As my former boss would say, he’s scaring both of us,’’ Thibodeau, an assistant to Doc Rivers on that Boston team, said when asked if he likes having such an ‘‘X-factor’’ on his team. ‘‘He’s very confident, and you need to be confident in this league. I like the way he and Kirk play together. We have to find that balance.

‘‘But we also have to keep everybody in rhythm, too. Nate’s had a very good year for us. And I think he’s capable of more.’’



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