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Watson’s play earns Thibodeau’s trust

CHICAGO – Veteran point guard C.J. Watson knew exactly what his role would be when the Bulls acquired him to become Derrick Rose’s backup before the 2010-11 season.

Start the game on the bench. Be ready to contribute when necessary.

Lately, Watson’s contributions have been necessary.

Rose missed his fourth consecutive game Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats because of a sprained left big toe. Watson filled in once again as Rose’s replacement and scored 11 points with nine assists as part of a 95-89 win in front of 21,861 fans at the United Center.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was day-to-day and could return soon.

“[He] keeps getting better, so we’re encouraged by that,” Thibodeau said. “All of the swelling is gone. Only Derrick knows how he feels, so when he says he can go, he’ll go.”

In the meantime, Thibodeau said, he trusted Watson to run the team. Watson started 33 games in parts of three seasons with the Golden State Warriors from 2007-10.

“He’s got great character, and he’s shown what he’s capable of doing,” Thibodeau said. “Every time we’ve given him extended minutes, he’s played at a very high level.”

Sore spot: Bulls forward Taj Gibson sat out Saturday because of a high-ankle sprain, which he sustained Friday against Cleveland when he landed on Antawn Jamison’s foot.

Gibson limped badly before the game and said he was not sure when he would return.

“We can’t put a timeline on it,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, this thing goes away in the next couple of days or I get some feeling back so I can play.

“Right now, it’s all about icing. That’s the best thing I can hope for right now.”

Gibson appeared in 162 of 164 regular-season games in his first two NBA seasons. He said he was frustrated to sit out, but he knew it was the best decision in the long term.

“This is a setback right now, but it’s better to be healthy later on in the season,” Gibson said.

New face: Journeyman guard Mike James made his United Center debut with the Bulls.

James, who has played for nine other teams in 10 NBA seasons, scored nine points with 10 assists in 16:31 off of the bench. He scored three points in his team debut Friday at Cleveland.

Thibodeau said James offered a capable option in the backcourt.

“He’s experienced,” Thibodeau said. “[He’s] a very good pick and roll player, a fierce competitor. He’s been around. He’ll do fine.”

Bulls bits: The Bulls will play the Bobcats again Feb. 10 and April 18, with both of those games in Charlotte. … Bobcats forward Corey Maggette, who was born in Melrose Park and starred at Fenwick High School, was inactive because of a strained left hamstring.

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