After not playing for 29 days, Richard Hamilton returned to the Bulls starting lineup in their 99-95 win over the Hornets on Tuesday at the United Center. He only scored five points on 2-for-5 shooting in a limited 16:51 of playing time, but added five assists on a night where the Bulls required frantic, high-risk ball movement to convert possessions against the strong Monty Williams defense.
The important questions are: (1) how did Rip feel after over six of pain in his groin and thigh?; (2) how much play can we expect from him for the rest of the season; and (3) how much production can the Bulls reasonably expect? The first and second questions relate to the third. At this point, we can only expect to answer the first; and Rip did.
"I feel good," he said after the game. "I felt great tonight. I felt energetic. I felt I was able to get to all my spots on the floor. I think that was the key thing; just trying to get to where my comfort zone is. It felt good with doing that."
Things seem to be looking up after a period where Rip's wisdom was tested by his toughness, as he addressed how he approaches the rest of the season:
In his mind, the key for the veteran sharpshooter is simply paying more attention to what his body is telling him.
"Just got to listen to my body," he said. "I think I'm stubborn when it comes to that. I just want to play. I just want to get out there and I want to play the whole game. It's not the case. I've got to really take my time and get out there and just try to get back in the swing of things."
The biggest unknown to outsiders was whether the Pistons' rebuilding crushed his spirit to turn into little more than a check-casher or if being on a contender would rejuvenate his killer instinct. His 34-year-old body can't do what it used to, but it's unfair to question Rip's 'competitive spirit'. He clearly wants to play; and when he's out there, he's busting his ass to be disruptive off the ball and make decisions to beat defenses with the ball in his hands.
"It's hard, it's tough because this is what you do and I've been doing this for a long time," Hamilton added. "You want to be out there. You miss competing against guys so it was missed, it was frustrating, it was hard, but I'm happy to be back."
Tom Thibodeau was pleased with Rip's performance and stuck with the plan to play him the first eight minutes of the two halves. He said the Bulls intend to ease him back into the rotation "step-by-step" and "get a baseline of where he is". But there's no question in Thibs mind that Rip's a great asset to the championship-contending team, Aggrey Sam added:
"He takes pressure off of people, creates easy offense because you have to pay a lot of attention to him," said Thibodeau. "Even if he's not shooting the ball, [defenses] have to commit to him coming off of [screens] and it creates easy scoring opportunities for others. Defensively, I thought he was solid and it's something to build on. It's a base-line for him and we'll keep adding as we go forward."
- Was Derrick Rose's game-winner intended for Luol Deng? Sam Smith implies that the Bulls were recalling a quick in-bound play they used to beat the Hawks this season, where Deng inbounds to Joakim Noah, who fakes a handoff to Rose on the outside and feeds Deng near the baseline.
Jarrett Jack followed Rose's route to the outside and Chris Kaman manned the strong-side baseline. Deng cut, but Kaman picked him up, so Rose never crossed Noah. If Rose was Plan B, great contingency plan if it was drawn up; even better chemistry between the three to display such a high I.Q. in reading the defense, no matter what the contingency plans. What's for sure, knowing Thibs, a 15-footer wasn't drawn up over a strong drive/off-ball cut, with a 3 as the backup plan. Watch the play again around the 2:16 mark:
Moreover, credit Thibs to beat a defense with a low-percentage timeout again. At the time, I was tweeting criticism of giving the Hornets the chance to reset the defense -- something defensive-minded coaches should know better than to allow against strong defensive-minded counterparts. But Thibs proved me wrong again and himself to be able to negate the advantage given to the defense with those timeouts by maximizing all five offensive weapons he puts out there with off-ball motion.
- Michael Jordan's Highland Park mansion was listed at a whopping $29 million, making it the highest-priced residential listing in the Chicagoland market.
- Noche Latina is approaching and the Bulls have announced when they'll be wearing the "Los Bulls" jerseys. March 12, when hosting the "Nueva York" Knicks and the 19th of the month in Orlando, where their opponents will be wearing the new "El Magic" jerseys. I actually think these are cool ideas, but awful in practice. Putting the good idea into good practice would have the Bulls jerseys reading "Los Toros", not "Los Bulls", right? How is this not an embarrassing P.R. moment for teams?