Hamilton eases back to action

CHICAGO -- Unlike his abrupt departure from the Chicago Bulls with a lower back strain in late February, Richard Hamilton's return Tuesday flew quietly under the radar.

He had a long and tricky recovery the last month and a half, saying that not only did an MRI show that he had a bulging disc in his lower back, but he also claimed that he "tore something in there."

His availability seemed to take head coach Tom Thibodeau by surprise. Thibodeau said early Tuesday after the Bulls' shootaround that Hamilton would miss yet another game, only to change that a little more than an hour before the matchup against the Toronto Raptors.

Even Hamilton's entrance into the game was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment as he walked onto the floor with 39.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter to light applause. He made two trips up and down the court to knock off some of the rust and then returned in the second quarter for a brief six-minute run.

Not shying away from the action, he missed a 17-footer just 15 seconds into the second quarter before making a 4-foot running jumper about a minute later for his first points since scoring six against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 26.

"That's what I do," he said about his quick-fire mentality. "I was pretty good at getting my shot off today and getting to where I wanted to get on the floor and trying to make plays. I just want to continue to play better, especially with more minutes."

In total, Hamilton played 15 minutes and scored four points on 2-of-5 shooting, with an assist.

"My conditioning won't be a problem," Hamilton said. "I think if anything it's just timing and rhythm. I think for any guy that's been out so long you don't want to go into the playoffs and not have a great sense of timing on the floor so that was a big thing for me."

Even before he was injured it had not been shaping up as a memorable season for Hamilton. His averages of 10.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists were at their lowest since his rookie season of 1999-2000 at Washington. He doesn't figure to make a dent in those numbers, but as long as he can add to his minutes he will be in a better position to help on the floor.

"I don't want to be in a situation where the playoffs come and all of a sudden play a lot of minutes," he said. "It seems like Thibs will do a good job with it.

It remains to be seen what Hamilton can give the Bulls in both length of time on the court and production, but until he returns to form his intangibles are expected to help the cause.

When asked if Hamilton was possibly returning early because time is running out to prepare himself for the playoffs, Thibodeau gave an indirect answer.

“He's been running for a while, shooting for a while and now he's doing everything in practice," Thibodeau said. “The next step is to play so we'll see where he is. He's been out a long time so there is going to be rust but he's an excellent playmaker and he has the ability to make other people better."