Rip Hamilton peaking at right time for Bulls

Rip Hamilton peaking at right time for Bulls

On Sunday, Rip Hamilton played his sixth consecutive game for the Chicago Bulls, surpassing the 30-year-old’s previous season-high of five in a row, set in January. The next night, Hamilton poured in 22 points.

The veteran shooting guard has endured an injury-plagued year, but he took another step in the right direction Wednesday evening against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats when he dropped 22 points and six assists in just 24 minutes of action as the Bulls emphatically delivered the lowly club its 18th straight loss, 100-68. He also made 4-of-5 three-pointers and 9-of-13 shots overall.

Over his last three contests, Hamilton has combined for 57 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. He had a similar three-game stretch from Jan. 21-25 when he totaled 59 points, 14 assists and six rebounds.

Even though the former All-Star continues to sport a protective pad on his sore right shoulder, he is finding his groove at the precise moment for the Bulls, with the playoffs right around the corner. Hamilton knows the bread and butter of his game is to consistently knock down the mid-range jumper, and while that shot looked rusty during the early stages of his return, he connected on 8-of-11 against the Bobcats.

During both his late-January span and the current one, Hamilton has looked like exactly the high level two-guard the Bulls – coaches, teammates and fans alike – believed they were getting when he was signed early in training camp:

A player who can impact the game in a variety of ways. When healthy, Hamilton, who has reached the 20-point plateau in three of the last five games, has repeatedly shown he is able to create plays either for himself or others.

“Each and every game I get better,” Hamilton told reporters after the game. “That’s the good thing. When I first came back, the problem wasn’t me getting to the spots that I wanted to get to. It was actually just getting in a rhythm and getting a feel for the game.”

From the outset Wednesday, the Bulls, who were playing without Derrick Rose (foot) and Luol Deng (ribs), shot a blistering percentage from the field, due, in large part, to smooth, controlled and unselfish ball movement. On this night, Hamilton served as the tone-setter, scoring (12 points) or assisting (five) on 20 of the Bulls’ 34 points in the first quarter, when he found Joakim Noah for three layups or dunks, and sandwiched in between them were two dishes to Carlos Boozer leading to jumpers.

The Bulls’ crisp passing didn’t miss a beat the rest of the game, as they had almost as many assists (25) as the Bobcats had rebounds (29) through three quarters of play. During the third frame, Hamilton had 10 points and one assist, finishing the evening on the bench along with the rest of the Bulls’ starters, none of whom played more than 24 minutes.

“I felt good,” Hamilton said. “We really worked the ball inside-out and got me some easy attempts.”

Indeed, Hamilton drained his first seven shots and did not miss one until the 7 minute, 9 second mark of the third quarter. After receiving 34 minutes on Monday, Hamilton likely could have gone 30 against the Bobcats if the contest was close down the stretch, but in just two quarters he pushed the Bulls to an insurmountable lead, good enough to allow the never-satisfied coach Tom Thibodeau to rest his starters for the final 12 minutes.

“Every game gets better,” Hamilton said. “I’m definitely pleased with what’s going right now.”

All parties related to the Bulls will remain pleased, too, as long as Hamilton can sustain this level of play – not to mention the fact that the team badly needs him to stay on the court, as healthy as possible.

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