As expected, Chicago Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton (thigh, groin) will return from a one-game absence and play on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Heat, but Luol Deng (wrist) and C.J. Watson (wrist) are out for the highly anticipated tilt, coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters before the contest.
Heat star Dwyane Wade on Saturday sounded as if he was sure Hamilton would play in the nationally televised (ABC) game and praised the longtime former Detroit Piston. Both players are very familiar with each other, having faced off in tightly contested playoff series in 2005 and 2006, not to mention their many regular-season battles. In 2010-11, Hamilton averaged 18 points in two games against the Heat.
Hamilton has played in just 10 of the Bulls' 21 games and missed Friday night's 107-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks because of a right thigh bruise and sore left groin. He suffered the thigh injury in Wednesday night's 95-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers while still nursing a groin he messed up Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Obviously, [Hamilton is] a guy who's a catch and shoot player," Wade told reporters in Miami. "Runs around a lot, makes [defenders] use a lot of energy. He's a veteran guy, he's a tough defender and he's going to make you earn everything. It was amazing to me that he went through waivers untouched. They got an opportunity to pick him up and it’s a perfect situation for them."
Deng will sit out because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, which he suffered last Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats. Given the fact that Deng told Bulls.com's BullsTV before Friday's game that he is around "a week away, maybe more," it certainly isn't a surprise that he will not play on Sunday.
"I really don't know, it's hard to tell," said Deng, who had refuted reports that he was planning on returning Sunday. "It's definitely a bad injury, but I really believe that I'll be back soon and [am] doing everything I can right now just to make sure I'm back soon enough."
Deng had been playing at an All-Star level this season, averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 rebounds in 38.3 minutes per game while giving the Bulls a strong presence on both ends of the court on a consistent basis. The 26-year-old will miss his fourth game in a row and has been told he can't suffer further damage to his wrist -- but, obviously, right now the injury is too painful for him to play.
"He's doing more and more," Thibodeau told the assembled media before Sunday's game, when asked about Deng's status. "He's feeling a lot better. I would say he's very close right now."
Derrick Rose, Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will be Thibodeau's starters. For the Heat, Mario Chalmers, Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony will start. The Bulls will be in their home white jerseys, while the Heat will don their new black uniforms for the second time this season.
Watson's apparent wrist injury he suffered against the Bucks makes the Bulls' release of veteran point guard Mike James on Saturday a head scratcher. However, the Bulls did not know about Watson's injury when they cut James, who now could be picked up off waivers.
Earlier in January, Watson missed nine straight games due to a dislocated left elbow, but he has performed well in seven games since coming back. John Lucas III, dealing with a sore left groin, has not played in the last four games but will fill the void at backup point guard against the Heat. Rose figures to rack up plenty of minutes.
There's no question that the Bulls want to defeat the Heat on Sunday in hopes of extracting a little bit of revenge for Miami's five-game series win last spring. But they know long-term health is more important than winning a regular-season contest in this condensed, 66-game schedule.
"We want all our pieces healthy, obviously," Noah told the assembled media after Saturday's practice. "But we feel like we have enough to win. We're just going to go out there and compete as hard as possible and see what happens."