Bulls' Rip Hamilton finds rhythm, more minutes

After playing limited minutes in the last two games, Rip Hamilton poured in 10 points to go along with three assists in the Chicago Bulls' 112-91 annihilation of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. It marked his first double-digit scoring output since Jan. 29.

The veteran shooting guard sported a black headband for the first time this season and received 20 minutes of action, including the entire first quarter -- which, according to coach Tom Thibodeau, wasn't how the team had designed it heading into the contest, as a Bull was at the scorer's table ready to replace Hamilton but was not able to enter the game. Hamilton also played the first eight minutes, one second of the third. He checked out after knocking down a 10-foot jumper and with the Bulls comfortably leading 78-61.

The Bulls have made no secret of the fact that they're bringing Hamilton along slowly, and the 34-year-old seems to be improving on a day-to-day basis and moved around fluidly against the Cavs. He had missed 10-of-13 shots in his first couple games since returning from a 13-game absence, but he found his touch Wednesday when he went 5-for-8 from the field.

Hamilton has one of the best mid-range games in the NBA and missed plenty of those shots against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. The Bulls are obviously confident that he will be able to regain his stroke, because they believe he got exactly the types of shots he was looking for. In 14 games this season, Hamilton is shooting 44 percent from the field.

"The encouraging thing is: After the back-to-back, he was feeling fine," Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "And even though he didn't make [shots] in San Antonio, I liked the looks that he got, because I thought he didn't force anything. They were his shots; they didn't go in.

"He still helps you even when the ball is not going in, because he's so unselfish. ... He moves so well without the ball that it helps to create good opportunities for us. And the poise that he plays with. We're encouraged by that."

Indeed, the Bulls piled up 31 assists on 47 baskets and made 10-of-20 three-pointers. They are now 18-0 this season when they dish out 23 or more assists. Hamilton has a long way to go to reach the level of play he exhibited in late January, highlighted by two consecutive 20-point performances, but make no mistake: He makes the game easier for all of his teammates whenever he's on the court.

"The ball movement was great," Thibodeau said. "The ball didn't stick. Everyone was conscience of making the extra pass, hitting the open man. ... We had good ball movement, inside-out."

Fellow two-guards Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver both had solid outings, as well -- the former, in particular. Brewer posted 13 points, four rebounds and a team-high-tying plus-minus of plus-20 while shooting 6-for-12 from the field in 23 minutes. He added two steals and one block and reeked havoc on defense all night, while Korver dropped nine points on three second-quarter three-pointers

"Brew changed the game, with huge steals, playing defense, knocking down the shot," Rose told the assembled media. "[He] has a lot of confidence in the shot now. And we just need him to keep playing like that."

Standings update: With the Miami Heat's 99-98 loss to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City later Friday, the Bulls, who are the first team to 30 wins, grabbed sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Heat dropped to 28-8. Although, for fans the loss column is most important to keep an eye on.

Out in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who didn't play Friday, boast a 28-7 mark.

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