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Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

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Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 4, 11:10 p.m.

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. While the return of Rip Hamilton to his old stomping grounds ended up being somewhat anticlimactic, the shooting guards return to the Bulls lineup only further stabilized his new team, which convincingly beat their Central Division rivals, the Pistons, 99-83, Wednesday night.

Five Bulls scored in double figures in a balanced effort that highlighted the squads unselfishness.

I thought the ball moved, extra pass. I thought our spacing looked a lot better, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought we ran the floor harder. I liked the offense a lot.

The visitors jumped on the Pistons early, scoring the games first six points and showcasing solid ball movement, as well as suffocating defense. Hamilton (14 points, five assists), in his first game in the Palace of Auburn Hills since he signed with the Bulls, was effective, converting a traditional three-point play and dishing out a pair of assists when defenders collapsed on him after coming off screens.

First quarter was good; I think just adrenaline, said Hamilton, who described his injured groin as sore afterwards. Second quarter, I felt a little pull, but there was no way that I was getting off the court.

Added Thibodeau: I thought he handled the whole situation really well. Got himself ready to play, was focused and to start the game, he came out and he was playmaking. He wasnt trying to do too much and I think that speaks to his experience. He plays to win and I thought that he was terrific.

But the home team, led by the mature play of second-year big man Greg Monroe (19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), battled back they were assisted by Thibodeau picking up an early technical foul for arguing an officials call that a Rodney Stuckey made basket was indeed good to ensure they werent run out of their own building from the outset.

However, Chicagos continued unselfishness, a spark from its reserves -- with backup point guard C.J. Watson sidelined, Derrick Rose (17 points, 10 assists) stayed in the game, along with Luol Deng, and got his first dunk of the young season -- and a re-commitment to defense led to a 22-14 after a quarter of play.

Thibodeau rested Rose at the start of the second period, turning over the reins to third-stringer John Lucas III, who, after some early jitters (a turnover and a foul), drew a charge, found Taj Gibson (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists) for a dunk and knocked down a triple in quick succession. Speaking of Gibson, his typical high-energy play was also a key factor in the modified Bench Mob maintaining the Bulls edge over their hosts, then turning it into a double-digit cushion.

I thought John was terrific, but Ive told you guys this all along. That doesnt surprise me, said Thibodeau. His rebounding, excellent. His defense, excellent. Seven rebounds in 20 minutes or so, real active.

Thibodeau went back to his starters and they extended the lead even further, as Joakim Noah (13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) scored and rebounded at a high level, while Carlos Boozer (19 points, seven rebounds) was effective as a post-up threat and mid-range shooter and Rose was content to run the show, but made sure the Pistons occasionally felt his scoring presence. Going into the intermission, the Bulls held a 51-35 advantage.

Detroit, minus starting point guard Stuckey (he wouldnt return to the contest after halftime due to a sore left groin; rookie Brandon Knight replaced him), attempted to mount a challenge after the break behind the polished Monroe, but the Bulls held their hosts at bay. Boozer and Noah continued to dominate inside, while the backcourt duo of Hamilton and Rose simply picked their spots.

Weve been playing great this season. I know a lot of you all media, for some reason, put our play under a microscope, but I thought weve been playing great, said Boozer. Our record shows it, our defense shows it playing great defense this season together and were sharing the ball good offensively, made the right plays and were having fun.

Added Rose: They played great. Moving the ball well, passing the ball to each other. They played great together. Thats how they always should play. They always look for each other and thats a good thing, tells you that they like each other, but I think their passing was on target today.

The guard tandem were tremendous distributors in the third quarter, setting up the Bulls post players for multiple easy opportunities throughout the period, which ended with the Bulls leading, 71-58. Not that the fans in attendance cared, as the biggest rise out of the sparse Palace audience of 9,125 came when the JumboTron showed an arena employee showing off his 1980s-style dance moves.

Contributions from reserves Gibson and Ronnie Brewer (nine points), whose much-improved jumper gave the swingman an added dimension to his game, got the Bulls off to a good start in the final stanza.

Once again, though, the Pistons tried to battle back to within striking distance, as the likes of rugged forward Jonas Jerebko (13 points) and Chicago native Will Bynum (10 points in 16 minutes of action) flirted with cutting the deficit to single digits by the midway point of the frame.

"I thought we loosened up, Thibodeau observed. We were trading buckets for a while there.

Down the stretch, however, Chicagos offensive balance allowed the visitors to cruise, as Boozer, in particular, scored with ease, though the Pistons began to lay the wood to their guests Noah was fouled flagrantly by former teammate Ben Gordon, Hamilton was knocked to the ground by Bynum and Rose lay on the court momentarily, then walked back to the bench under his power and returned to the contest after taking a scary fall as if they were the Bad Boy Pistons of old.

However, Rose insisted he was good afterwards, though he had his left elbow X-rayed, while Thibodeau said, Thats part of the NBA.

Although Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams ball-security issues at the end of the contest, their ability to stay focused on the second night of back-to-back games, ensuring their new teammate had a successful semi-homecoming, was enough for the perfectionist, who prizes winning above style points, to be moderately pleased.

Were still not a 48-minute team. I like the way were moving. I think we responded well to our performance yesterday. I thought the concentration was really good today. I want us to move in the right direction, so this was a good day, but in this league, once you start feeling good about yourself, youre going to get knocked on your butt, said Thibodeau.

Weve got to be ready. Were going down to Orlando. Theyre really good. They put a lot of pressure, theyve got a dominant inside force and great shooting.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson reflect on the passing of an NBA icon, Kobe Bryant.

0:30 - Reaction to Kobe's passing on Sunday

18:00 - More discussion about Kobe Bryant and his impact on the league

25:00 - The guys favorite memories of Kobe Bryant

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

Denzel Valentine is beloved throughout the Bulls’ locker room. It takes only a brief sweep around to glean that.

“I love playing with Denzel, that's my guy,” Kris Dunn said. “No matter what, that's my guy. He know[s] that.”

No matter what.

“Man, Denzel is a true professional,” Zach LaVine said. “We're thankful to have him on this team, I think any team would love to have him. He's someone that is beneficial to us because he's gotten put in a tough situation where he came off the bench, and he's a player that's a regular rotation guy.”

Any team would love to have him.

“They show a lot of support, man, it's just crazy. We have a really good, close-knit team,” Valentine said of his teammates. “Zach — he's been a really good help in this situation. Talking to me every day. Coby [White], Kris, I can go down the line of everybody that's a part of it, so. I got blessed, man, I'm on a really good team with really good teammates.”

Let’s rewind. Valentine logged his fourth-highest minutes total of the season (19:06) on Monday, tied his season-high for scoring (16 points) and played crucial, crunch-time minutes in one of these Bulls’ most memorable victories — a 110-109 squeak-by over the San Antonio Spurs on a night the late Kobe Bryant was commemorated from start to finish. 

Valentine added three assists, four rebounds and four 3-pointers, as well.

“I thought Denzel was terrific. He's kept himself ready and came in and helped us win a game,” coach Jim Boylen said.

It can’t have been easy keeping the rust off. After missing all of last season due to ankle reconstruction surgery, Valentine is averaging by far his lowest minutes per game this season while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. He has been phased in and out of the rotation on multiple occasions.

“That's my job as a professional, to stay ready and play when called upon,” Valentine said of how he endures with playing time not a given.

In four games which Valentine has played more than 19 minutes this season, he averages 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 50/44/100 shooting splits. The Bulls are 3-1 in said contests.

“Playing winning basketball,” Valentine said on what he brings when given opportunity. “Whether that's scoring, passing, playing defense, rebounding. Just whatever I can do to affect the game. People always want to look at my shots, but I think I impact the game in a lot of different ways. I think my defense is underrated, and I impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

Valentine said he’s excited to continue to prove himself with advanced opportunity likely in the near future. Thad Young’s insertion into the starting lineup with Lauri Markkanen out for at least the next month opens a gaping need for scoring off the bench. Since Markkanen went down, Valentine is averaging 13.8 minutes per game. Before then, he hadn’t played more than seven since logging 16 minutes in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 30. 

But tonight, he was instrumental to a victory. Of his four 3-pointers, two came in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were clawing their way back from, at one point, a 10-point deficit. 

“He brings that. Scoring, another playmaker. You know, when Denzel get rolling, you get to see a different player in him,” Dunn said. “He has that same mentality that I have in the sense of — you know, just go out there and do whatever you can do to win.”

Valentine is beloved throughout the locker room.

“That's not up to him, to play his minutes. He came in, and he's the biggest reason why we won the game I think,” LaVine said. “I think he was 6-for-10, he had 16 points in [19] minutes. You know, high-IQ player, playing on and off the ball, so it was big and I appreciate having him as my teammate.

“Denzel has some of the highest respect in the locker room, we know who he is as a player, and as a person.”

But are his teammates hinting at something? Trade speculation has swirled around Valentine with the deadline impending and the Bulls’ role for him undefined. Now, though, the team’s need for him is evident, given their short-handedness. 

The waters are muddy, but all there is to know for sure is this: All parties have remained and will remain professional.

Time will tell the rest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.