By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Slowly, Derrick Rose is starting to get more accustomed to Richard Hamilton.
The Bulls guard hasn’t had ample opportunity to develop a rhythm with his new veteran teammate. Rose and Hamilton have missed a combined 63 games due to injury and have been in the starting lineup together just 17 times.
“Have I learned how to hit him in stride? Well, I’m getting to that,” Rose said. “I’ve been out, shoot, 26 games. But I have been able to watch his tendency and where he wants the ball. The only thing I know is if I deliver the ball to him, it’s got to be pretty hard.”
There is another aspect of Hamilton’s game Rose has grown to admire.
“Just watching Rip, he’s a very good passer,” Rose said. “Actually, he’s a great passer. I didn’t know that before. He’s someone that can make the game easy.”
The signing of Hamilton this season was expected to be the ultimate assist for Rose, who needed another scorer to help shoulder the load, especially in the postseason. The Bulls’ magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference’s top seed is down to one with two games remaining — at Indiana on Wednesday and at home against the Cavaliers on Thursday.
Hamilton’s value was evident during Saturday night’s 93-83 win over the Mavericks. Rose, who returned to the lineup following a foot injury, was more the facilitator with eight assists to go with 11 points. Hamilton launched a team-high 16 shots — hitting nine — en route to 19 points, second behind Luol Deng’s 22 points.
While Rose took a conservative approach and opted not to attack the basket, the 34-year-old Hamilton displayed youthful energy when he outraced three Mavericks for a transition layup.
Hamilton believes he still has to get up to speed with Rose.
“I just want to help him out, take some of the load off him in terms of playmaking,” Hamilton said. “Whether that’s scoring or passing … they depended on him a lot for that last year. And I saw that from afar. If I can make some of those plays, it gives him a chance to breathe a little bit.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will breathe a lot easier once his squad is relatively healthy and fully intact. The starting lineup of Rose, Hamilton, Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah played together for just the 14th time Saturday. The Bulls are 12-2 in those games. There are, however, some kinks to straighten out.
The offensive rhythm wasn’t exactly smooth against the Mavericks upon Rose’s return. Moving forward, the Bulls can fall back on their stingy defense but need to find a consistent flow on offense once the playoffs begin.
“We’re just missing shots,” Rose said. “I think that we’re overpassing. In certain situations where we should shoot the ball, we’re so unselfish that we’re trying to make the pass, and teams are getting a hand on it. We’ve just got to get a little bit selfish when we get to the lane — where most of our turnovers are happening.”
Hamilton isn’t afraid to put up a shot, especially during playoff time. He has averaged 20.6 points and 17.1 field-goal attempts in 120 career postseason games. Then again, Hamilton realizes where the offense all starts — with Rose.
“I’ve played with a lot of people in my career, so I can adjust,” Hamilton said. “It’s (Rose’s) team, so I just try to adjust off him.”