Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

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Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

CHARLOTTETo say it was a flashback would be an insult, but the way Rip Hamilton played Wednesday night, he looked like the player they anticipated when they acquired him in December. Granted, the former three-time All-Stars 22-pointon 9-for-13 shooting and 4-for-5 from three-point rangesix-assist performance came against the lowly Bobcats, but his outing was even more encouraging because it occurred with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng sidelined with injuries.

Its feeling better. Each and every game, I get better. Thats the good thing. When I first came back, the problem wasnt me getting to the spots that I wanted to get to . It was actually just gaining a rhythm and getting a feel for the game again. But every game, it gets better. Im definitely pleased with whats going on, said Hamilton, who missed the bulk of the campaign with various ailments. The rhythm and the timing, the timing of the game and thats for anybody. When youre away from the game this long, the biggest thing is just rhythm and timing.

Im just aggressive. With Derrick out and Luol out the last couple games, I just try to be a lot more aggressive and try to make plays, continued the shooting guard, who also had a stellar night, albeit in a loss, against Washington at home Monday night. Just from a spacing standpoint. The more space that we have, with the type of players that we have, good things can happen.

Hamilton emerging as a major threat is happening at just the right time, with the injury-plagued Bulls almost at the finish line of the regular season. His teammates and coaches have taken notice.

Playing great, shooting lights out, super aggressive. Looks like the Rip Ive been playing against for a long time, praised Carlos Boozer, one of the prime beneficiaries of Hamiltons underrated passing ability. I think it opens up a lot of things for me and Joakim. You saw the way he was shooting, it got Joakim and I lots of layups and dunks. But at the same time, defensively, hes a tough defender. Another added weapon.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Its hard to judge. Each day he gets better. Again, its how our team plays. Its not how one particular guy plays. Its how our team functions and thats what were focused on right now.

The fact that Hamiltons mentalityhe won a championship on a similarly-balanced and defensive-oriented Pistons teamjibes with his coachs approach has eased the transition, now that hes regained his rhythm, as he knows hes capable of scoring, but isnt overly concerned with putting up big numbers at this stage of his career.

Explained Hamilton: Its something that Ive been accustomed to my whole career, so its nothing I dwell on. Its just something that I say, Well, all right, if the team needs it, Ill do it, and I think coming back off an injury, you just say, My job is to get to my spots. If I can get to my spots and feel good, and not be as hurt as I was before the game, then I know my shot will end up falling.

Still, Hamiltons long-range shooting on a team in need of more consistent deep threats has been a pleasant surprise, since Hamilton has always been known as a mid-range specialist.

I always feel as though I can make them from the corner, but when Im hitting them up top, thats something different. I felt good. I think we really worked the ball inside-out and got me some easy attempts, he said. I always say, Why shoot threes when you can blow by your man? Thats always been my thing my whole career, but I did lead the league in three-point percentage one year the 2005-06 season. Thats what people dont realize. But I dont get caught up in that. I just take the best shot that I can get. If its 20 feet, if its a three-pointer, if its a layup, I just play the game and try to play it the right way.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."