Rip's back, but Bulls still rise with Rose

CHICAGO -- As it turned out, Rip doesn't stand for "resting in plainclothes."

Richard "Alive and Well" Hamilton returned to the Chicago Bulls' lineup for the first time in nearly a month, marking the sixth game this season the Bulls' planned starting five actually started and just the 12th for Hamilton.

For a minute, I thought he was on the Jerome James' plan.

That's a joke, and if you watched Tuesday's nailbiter 99-95 win over the star-studded New Orleans Hornets (Gustavo Ayon! Lance Thomas!), you were probably using stronger words than "joke" to describe the game. At least until the last minute and change. That's when the Bulls got serious.

The Bulls (28-8) are now 9-3 when Hamilton plays and 5-1 when the first five start. It was a good sign to see Hamilton play, even if it was only in two eight-minute intervals.

Hamilton, who scored five points and added five assists in 16 minutes, 51 seconds, was a spectator at the end as the Bulls closed with an impressive 8-0 run over the last 90 seconds. Rose was the leading man, scoring six of those points, with the other two coming on a Joakim Noah putback of a Rose miss.

"Derrick was Derrick," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.

That Thibs has a way with words.

Noah was pretty good, too. He continues to turn activity into achievement. Coming off his first career triple double, Noah had 15 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. But let's face it, it was Rose's world.

Rose scored 13 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, drawing shooting fouls and taking big shots. Rose's game-winner was a baseline jumper that rolled in off the rim, coming off a familiar play out of a timeout.

The Bulls beat Atlanta early in the season on a different variation of the same, familiar call: Joakim Noah out by the 3-point line off the inbounds looking for either Rose or Luol Deng coming off sideline cuts. Deng hit the game-winner on a backdoor cut against Atlanta, but Rose got the ball this time and created his shot.

Rose isn't looking for credit or validation, but with a $95 million contract and a newly signed shoe deal worth approximately $200 million, well, you should want the ball at the end. He's not just thinking in the short-term either. Rose has bigger things in mind.

"For sure," he said. "I always think about my legacy and taking those shots. And wanting to be where I want to be at the end of my career, taking them shots is definitely big."

Too bad he missed his last two shots, free throws that would've landed Bulls fans at the game a free Big Mac.

"I saved McDonald's a lot of money, so they should be happy," he said with a smile.

I smell a new partnership! Can Rose fit another oversized check into his townhouse? Will his ATM receipts just read infinity?

Rose didn't just want the ball, he knew how he was going to get it. His basketball IQ is sometimes overlooked by the casual fan.

"I told them they were going to overplay me and I was going to back-cut," he said. "Joakim had a great pass and I just tried to make something happen. I know if I went up hard and shoved him a little bit, I was going to have some space."

Hamilton was a gametime decision for Tuesday's game, and he could be again Wednesday at San Antonio. Thibodeau said he would have to see how Hamilton feels. It's a step-by-step process, as the All-Star coach likes to say.

Hamilton, the slender veteran, said he felt good after the game. The Bulls were a plus-11 when he was on the floor, despite three turnovers, but he only took five shots. Still, when he plays, you can tell the Bulls are a better team. He keeps the ball moving.

"Whatever the defense gives me, that's what I'm going to take," he said. "Whether it's scoring, passing, or whatever. I think the biggest thing was, for me, getting my cuts. Cutting, moving without the ball, hitting my screens hard when I wanted to. I thought I could do that tonight."

Rose was very complimentary of his complementary teammate.

"We're very dangerous" with Hamilton on the floor, Rose said. "He's a guy that could post the ball if it's a smaller guard on him. Shoot the ball great. Knows how to get fouled. And just a smart player when he's out there. Plays smart, good passer. When he's out there, he's definitely, I think, the X factor for our team."

The win might not have been pretty, but the Bulls are once again hale, healthy and fully staffed. And it's perfect timing. Starting with the Spurs on the road, the Bulls face a passel of playoff teams in the next couple weeks, with nine of 12 against teams currently slotted in the postseason.

"Just because we're the Chicago Bulls doesn't mean that we're going to win every game by 30," Noah said. "Guys are good. This is the NBA. We know that we have a ways to go. We have to play better to get to where we want to get to."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.