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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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