ATLANTA -- Before the majority of his teammates were even onthe bus to take them to Philips Arena for the Bulls Wednesday-morningshootaround -- sans Brian Scalabrine, his workout partner -- Rip Hamilton waslaunching shots, going through drills and perhaps most importantly, gettingjostled and hit in his effort to return from a right-shoulder injury. However,despite his considerable progress as of late, its unlikely the veteranshooting guard suits up Wednesday evening against the Hawks.Im trying to get as many shots as possible and get myworkout, in addition to the stuff Ive been trying to do in practice, so Imjust trying to get acclimated, get more strength in my shoulders, Hamiltonsaid before the teams shootaround. Theres still some pain in there, but itsgetting better each and every day. Im able to shoot. That was the biggestconcern because its my right side. Im able to get my shot off and I thinkthats the thing that Im really happy with.Well see how it goes today. Today was actually thefirst time I did a little bumping. Thats what me and Scal were doing, himchasing me and bumping, and having a little contact. It was good because thatsthe biggest thingme getting hitnow, the contact, he continued. I definitelythink so. Im happy with my progress. I know that its not going to bepain-free. We just want to prevent me re-aggravating it, anything of that sort,but theres going to be pain. But as long as I can get my hand over my shoulderand be able to shoot the ball, Ill be fine.
Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibideau: Hes doing fine.Game-time decision. Doing more and more. Hes very close.Hes had some contact, he went on to say. His legs aregreat, so hes over all those injuries. We want to make sure the strength isthere in the shoulder. Were very encouraged. Hes doing great right now.The 13-year NBA veteran admitted that workout sessionsarent the same as actual games, but since he prides himself on hisconditioning, Hamilton believes hell get in the swing of things soon after hiseventual return.The games are always different than practice, but Itrain myself to be the best-conditioned athlete in the NBA. But I think thebiggest thing is rhythm, timing. I think theyre the biggest things, trying tocatch your second wind when youre out there for the first time, he said. Theschedules been crazy. I tell people that. Its no secret why everybodysgetting hurt. The back-to-back-to-back games, the traveling, its an adjustmenton everybodys body, but I feel as though when youre out there playing, youforget everything. You forget that youre hurt, youre injured, theres pain oranything like that. The only thing youre focused on is the game and trying toget a win.Today was the first day we actually took a littlecontact on it, so the more, the better and thats the one thing that wereall -- me, Thibs -- really trying to figure out. OK, whens the right time to reallypush it, because you cant dictate contact on the floor when youre playing,so were just trying to figure out when is the best time to really push it,continued Hamilton, who noted that hell wear something protective on hisshoulder when he returns to game action. The guys have been doing an awesomejob. The guys that have been coming off the bench and stepping up, and playingstarters roles have really been awesome. Ronnies been awesome, C.J.s beenawesome, Lucas, Kyle. Those guys have been doing an unbelievable job, so I givethem a lot of credit for playing the way they have been playing and doing whatthey have been doing the last couple weeks.As far as the Bulls other currently-sidelined startingguard, Derrick Rose, the leagues reigning MVP is also on the road to recovery,though unlike Hamilton, he hasnt participated in full-contact drills yet.Hes doing more. Again, game-time decision tonight,said Thibodeau. Hes running now, on the court, so that parts good. Doingmore shooting, more moving. Hes coming along.Injuries aside, Thibodeau has other concerns -- specificallyrebounding and defense -- heading into Wednesdays game, coming off the seasonsworst loss to the Nuggets at home Monday.Weve been a great rebounding team all year. I thinkits one of our strengths. We gang rebound, really. Weve got to get everybodygoing and the more you go, the more you get, so youve got to make the effortto go and youve got to fight for the ball. Hopefully we can correct that, heexplained. Its not any one particular thing and your offense is also tiedinto it, so right now, were not playing with energy and intensity andconcentration. So, weve got to get that part back first and thats in allareas, and theres stretches in those games where weve played very well. Everygame tells you something and we have to correct the things were not doingwell, clean those things up and then strive to be more of a 48-minute team. Toplay with consistency and intensity is so important in this league. I think wewill respond well.