NBA AM: No Title For Bulls Without Hamilton
The Chicago Bulls (44-14) currently own the best record in the NBA and are sitting at the top of the perch despite playing without reigning league MVP Derrick Rose for roughly 40 percent of the season.
The stellar play without Rose may surprise casual observers, but the Bulls have a very solid infrastructure in place to absorb short term adversity.
Surrounding Rose, the team boasts last season’s coach of the year Tom Thibodeau roaming the sidelines, a former All-Star power forward in Carlos Boozer on the interior, a first time All-Star in Luol Deng on the wing and a very energetic and talented set of reserves who call themselves ‘the bench mob.’
But all of the above pieces were present last season when the Bulls were sent home packing in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami HEAT.
If the Bulls are going to make a serious title run in 2012, outside of Rose, the player they need at 100 percent in the postseason will be their coveted free agent signing, shooting guard Richard Hamilton.
Hamilton was signed last December before the season with the mission to fill the team’s void at shooting guard and provide Rose with a proven backcourt partner who could create their own offense.
However the duo hasn’t seen much action in the lineup together to gain cohesiveness with Hamilton missing 38 games due to a variety of ailments.
But with only two weeks remaining in the regular season, things may be taking a positive turn.
On Tuesday, Hamilton’s fourth game back after a suffering shoulder injury, the guard led all Bulls scorers with 20 points (18 in the third quarter alone) to help the club secure a win over the much improved New York Knicks.
With eight games remaining before the playoffs, Hamilton’s offensive explosion couldn’t have been timed better during a period when teams are trying to solidify their postseason edge.
‘‘Tonight was a great night for Rip,” Boozer said after the team’s win. ‘‘He was hitting shots from everywhere. It was the first time we saw him that aggressive. He gave us a huge lift.’’
Hamilton was a bit less surprised with his overall performance versus New York.
“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career,’’ Hamilton told Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun Times on his scoring outburst. ‘‘On this team, I’ve got to pick my moments. We’ve got so many guys that can score. It’s not all about me just scoring all the time. Sometimes it’s making plays and getting guys easy baskets. It’s just catching the rhythm of the game, knowing when they need me to score and when they need me to do other things.”
“Guys did a great job setting screens so I could get to my sweet spots. I still missed easy shots that I normally make 90 percent of the time. But it’s coming together.”
A healthy Hamilton providing his playoff experience will be pivotal to the Bulls’ championship aspirations this season.
The thirteen year veteran has logged 4,800 playoff minutes (120 games) throughout his career while possessing an impressive scoring average of 20.6 points under the league’s brightest lights.
The 34 year old Hamilton’s minutes have been limited to around twenty per contest by Thibodeau upon his return from the injured list, but despite the eruption Tuesday night there are no plans to rush him back into major duty.
“The game is slowing down for him a little bit,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He’s got a better feel for when the shot is there and when to play-make. He has been out a long time. Now he’s getting used to the contact and the pace of the game. He’s coming back to who he is.”
Hamilton echoed his coach’s plan to take the process of working him back into game shape slowly with the postseason nearing.
“We’re just pacing it so we don’t rush right into it,” Hamilton said. “We want to take our time with it. I don’t want to ever come off the court. But I thought that before when I got hurt and ended up getting hurt again. I leave it up to the coaching staff. Me and Thibs are on the same page with that. Eventually, I’ll play more. I’ll take what I get now.”
The Bulls currently hold a three game lead over the HEAT for Eastern Conference supremacy and a 1.5 game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder for the league’s best record.
Celtics’ Avery Bradley Earning League Wide Respect: When shooting guard Avery Bradley, the No. 19 overall pick of the 2010 draft, entered the league Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said the only way he envisioned his young charge getting meaningful minutes would be if he could establish himself on the defensive end of the floor.
Rivers’ thought process at the time made perfect sense.
Rookies very rarely make meaningful contributions on teams with title hopes, especially on squads with three future Hall of Famers and four All-Star level performers.
So, naturally Bradley played a total of only 162 minutes his rookie season and only logged court action in 30 games.
But in the NBA fortunes can change instantly.
In this lockout shortened season, Bradley was thrust into a more prominent role on the team because of injuries to starting guard Ray Allen.
Bradley has thrived in the new role and has been one of the major reasons the Celtics have dramatically improved their playoff positioning in the East, averaging 10.2 points, 3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 19 games as a starter this season.
His play has helped push Allen, one of the three aforementioned Hall of Famers, to a seat on the bench next to Rivers.
Not surprisingly guys around the league are starting to take notice of Bradley’s play, such as two-time league MVP LeBron James and former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade.
“Much respect to him, because when he came out after his freshman year (at the University of Texas) people didn’t know if he made the right decision or not,” James told Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. “But he’s making the most of it now and playing great for this team. This league is about opportunity and a coach believing in you, and once Doc gave him the green light, he let his talent take care of itself. The good thing is that he’s got guys around him that can help him. He’s been playing extremely good basketball. When you start getting on people’s scouting reports and they start gunning for you, then you know you’re doing some great things.”
“Avery Bradley has helped that team out,” said Wade. “He gives them another defender, and he’s also a guy who is helping them offensively energy-wise. He’s fast. He’s a good finisher. He’s an aggressive defender. He’ll try to get into you. I’m a guy who’s always going to give it my all, but he makes you focus a little bit more on your game.”
It’s always a positive story to see a young guy staying patient while earning his stripes and working his way into the lineup, then making the most out of his newfound opportunity.
Spencer Hawes Responds To Benching: The Sacramento Kings traded center Spencer Hawes to the Philadelphia 76ers before the start of the 2010 season.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Hawes quickly established himself as the team’s top center starting all 108 games he’s played with the Sixers.
But earlier this week, with the Sixers struggling, head coach Doug Collins decided to shake up the team’s starting lineup and the decision sent Hawes to the bench.
If Collins was looking for a way to motivate his 7 foot center, who is in a contract year, the benching seemingly did the trick.
Hawes responded with a season high 19 points and also grabbed 8 rebounds in Philadelphia’s blowout win over the New Jersey Nets Tuesday night.
After the game Hawes admitted the demotion was a bit of motivation and a tough pill to swallow.
“[Collins] told me before shootaround,” Hawes explained to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News on when he found out he was removed from starting lineup. “Obviously, I wasn’t happy. Anybody that gets news like that, if you play the game, you’re not going to be happy. But there’s two ways to go. You can either sulk about it or be mad, swallow it then try to make the most of it.”
Collins credited assistant coach Jeff Capel for talking with Hawes after the demotion and keeping the center in a positive state of mind.
“That’s the stuff that these [assistant] coaches bring,” Collins said. “I don’t want to talk to Spencer at that time [after telling him he's not starting]. That’s the time you have to have someone come in and step in and talk to him. Spencer came back like I knew he would. Spencer is a damn good player. He got into a rhythm and when he plays like that he makes us altogether different.”
Once comfortably sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers now find themselves in seventh, just one game ahead of the eighth place New York Knicks but only two games ahead of the ninth place Bucks.
To reach the postseason for the second season in a row, the Sixers will need an inspired Hawes manning the middle down the stretch.
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats on the schedule today. Kicking things off will be salary cap guru Larry Coon who will host his chat starting at 3pm EST. Submit a question for Larry here. Next up, I will be hosting my weekly chat at 8pm EST. Feel free to drop me a line on anything NBA related. You can always find our upcoming chats HERE.