Rip Hamilton nears return for Bulls

Rip Hamilton nears return for Bulls

Chicago Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton admitted on Wednesday that his injured right shoulder will not be pain-free for the rest of the season, but he could return as soon as that night against the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena.

Hamilton, who hurt his shoulder on March 5 against the Indiana Pacers, took contact for the first time before the team’s morning shootaround when teammate Brian Scalabrine bumped and chased him. The 6-foot-7 Hamilton knows he will have to play through pain, but his biggest goal is to return to the court and make sure he doesn’t re-aggravate the injury.

The Bulls are 13-3 with Hamilton in the lineup and 28-7 minus him. Hamilton has also dealt with groin and thigh injuries this season.

“There’s still some pain in there, but it’s getting better each and every day,” Hamilton told reporters. “I’m able to shoot – that was the biggest concern because it was my right side. I’m able to get my shot off and I think that’s the thing I’m really happy with.

“As long as I can get my hand over my shoulder and shoot the ball, I’ll be fine.”

If Hamilton doesn’t play Wednesday, it’s likely that he will return Friday night against the Detroit Pistons, his longtime former club, at the United Center. Either way, it’s critical for Hamilton, who is averaging 11.3 points and 3.1 assists this season, to find a rhythm during the final month of the campaign.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes that Hamilton is past the groin and thigh issues that ailed him earlier in the season, which has allowed the 34-year-old to get in solid conditioning.

“His legs are great, so he’s over all those injuries,” Thibodeau said of Hamilton, who is officially listed as a game-time decision Wednesday. “We want to make sure the strength is there in the shoulder and all that. We’ve very encouraged and he’s doing great right now.”

As for Hamilton’s backcourt running mate, Derrick Rose, the reigning league MVP is expected to miss his eighth contest in a row on Wednesday, although he’s listed as a game-time call. Overall, Rose, who just started to run on a treadmill Sunday and has improved from that point, has sat out 17 games this season because of a turf toe, lower back spasms and now the groin pull.

Over the course of his NBA career, Rose has repeatedly shown that he has a burning desire to be on the court when his team faces an elite club in a highly anticipated matchup – and Sunday afternoon’s tilt against the Oklahoma City Thunder on ABC would qualify as just that, which makes it conceivable that the 6-foot-3 point guard targets Friday as his comeback date.

Rose has put up 22.8 points and and a career-high eight assists per game this season. The Bulls are 12-5 without Rose in the lineup.

Assuming both Rose and Hamilton are out against the Hawks, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer would start in their respective places. The Bulls are searching for a bounce-back effort following their worst loss of the season Monday night against the Denver Nuggets, 108-91.

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