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Hamilton, Deng game-time decisions as Bulls try to bounce back Saturday

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Hamilton, Deng game-time decisions as Bulls try to bounce back Saturday

DEERFIELD, ILL. After tearing his left plantar fascia in a Dec. 1 win over the 76ers, Bulls starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton could return to the teams lineup in Saturday nights home game against the Wizards, the organization that drafted him out of college. Both Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Hamilton himself said it would be a game-time decision.

Today was the first day I really went through the whole practice, getting up and down, and running. It wasnt easy; it was tough, just for the simple fact of getting back into things. But I was able to cut and try to get to different spots on the floor, so it felt pretty good, Hamilton said after Friday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. Its looking real good. Were going to see how my body responds in the morning and then, me and Thibs are going to talk.

Just putting weight on my foot again, cutting, stopping and going. I do a whole lot of stopping and cutting when coming off screens, so just more about putting weight on the floor with somebody on me, he continued, explaining how he could be limited when he returns to the court. Well try some type of heel lift, to lift my heels up a little bit, so I dont put so much pressure on the back of my heel.

It was uncomfortable when I hurt it. I feel it some, so any benefit I can get, Im going to try to go with.

Thibodeau chimed in: Rip was really good today. He did the whole practice well, so well see how hes feeling tomorrow.

Obviously health is important, wed like to have everyone back and when hes been healthy, hes played very well for us, so hopefully hell be back soon, the coach added. Tomorrow, as long as he doesnt have any problems, which I cant foresee he hasnt for the past couple of days then hell be a go and how much he plays, well see when he gets out there.

Hes done quite a bit over the last week and we did some scrimmaging today. He was fine. Hes got it ramped up pretty good and the next day, there hasnt been any problems, so thats encouraging. But well see and again, in practice, you try to simulate game-like conditions as much as you can, but its never quite like a game, so the intensity of a game is unique and well see how he responds to that.

Also a game-time decision against Washington is the Bulls other starting wing, Luol Deng, who suffered a sprained right ankle in the teams Christmas Day loss to the Rockets at the United Center.

He didnt do a whole lot today during practice, but hes much improved, Thibodeau said about Deng, who also injured his left shoulder in last Fridays overtime road win in New York. Well see tomorrow where hes at.

Hamilton understands that when he returns, hell likely play limited minutes initially, especially with the solid play of understudy Marco Belinelli during his absence, which is presently just shy of the four-week prognosis given when he first injured his foot.

I havent got a whole lot of practice time. Today was the first day I practiced, so its going to take time. I know for a fact that Thibs doesnt want to just put me out there and say, All right, play 30 minutes a game. He wants to gradually see how I respond with limited minutes at first and see how that goes, he acknowledged. Its been hard not being able to get out there and help your team win. I thought it was good, just for the simple fact that a guy like Marco, who wasnt playing a whole lot and now has an opportunity to go out there and play, and show what he can do. So I just think it was one of those things where it was tough because you want to be out there and you want to help your teammates win.

With Belinelli playing the way that hes playing, hopefully he can continue to play that way. It gives us another weapon. Thats what were going to need from him. I dont expect anything different when I come back. I dont want him to put the same amount of pressure and Im going to put the same pressure on him to play the same exact way because were going to need him, he continued. I think he can play alongside Belinelli. Hes smart. In Detroit, I played the three some we went small and hes smart. Hes a guy that really knows how to play and hopefully can continue to play that way.

Thibodeau, who claimed he hadnt decided whether or not Hamilton would immediately start upon his return, added: The thing is, they have great versatility, so I can play Marco and Rip together, probably Rip and Jimmy together, Lu can play with everybody, so we have great versatility in our wings. So, I cant foresee a problem there.

Hamilton also elaborated on his recovery process from the injury, explaining that hes done, Everything from ice, electronic muscle stimulation, swimming pool, calf raises, massages. Weve been doing everything really. Different types of tape jobs on it to try to get the swelling out. Theres still swelling there, but I think that with me playing or trying to get out there, the swelling will eventually go away, but weve been doing everything to eventually get back.

My job is to try to get the guys going, on offense and on defense. Try to get guys easy baskets, get Booz easy baskets and Jo, so its just something where I try to make the game easy for everybody. Once the game is easy for everybody, good things can happen, he continued when asked how he expects to impact the Bulls, who are currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak. The last two games were rough; they were tough. We thought that we could play a lot better. I think that we could still grow. The team has responded well.

His coach also took a big-picture view, while simultaneously focusing on the task at hand.

The big thing is not to look at the group of games, just get ready for Washington, to concentrate on our improvement. Weve had a couple bad games and we have to bounce back, and we have to understand what it takes to win and if were doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves, he explained.

Weve had a lot of slippage, not only on defense, but our offense, as well. Its been more of a low-energy type game and for us, thats not good. We need high energy on offense, we need high energy on defense. When we do that, were usually pretty good. But I think when we start taking short cuts, youre not doing the right things. You usually get what you deserve in this league. I dont think we were playing hard enough and we have to correct that.

Thibodeau didnt bemoan a missed opportunity to get back on the winning track Wednesday, when the Bulls game at Indiana was postponed by the league due to weather conditions in Indianapolis: We were there, so its very unusual to have a game postponed, but the league does a great job with that, so they didnt want to jeopardize anyones safety. So, they made the right decision, I think.

As for Saturdays matchup, the ever-prepared coach isnt overlooking the lowly Wizards, as he complimented their entire roster in typical fashion.

Well, theyre good. Their thing is theyve been hit hard with injury. Theyre usually in every game, Thibodeau deadpanned. Their bigs up front: Nene is a tough matchup, Emeka Okafor has been a very good player in the league for a long time. Jordan Crawford, very good. Shelvin Mack is a good player. John Walls been out; thats hurt them. Bradley Beal is a very good young player.

This is a team, theyre going to play. Youve got to be ready for them. Nene wasnt playing at the beginning of the season, so that hurt them some, but theyre tough. Theyve got guys who can crack you off the dribble, theyve got bigs inside who can do damage. Kevin Seraphins a very good player coming in off the bench, so weve got to be ready.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.