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With Rip Hamilton injured again, should Bulls make a move?

Chicago Bulls guard Richard Hamiltappears be paafter delivering pass early first quarter Bulls 92-72 wover IndianPacers Monday March 5 2012

Chicago Bulls guard Richard Hamilton appears to be in pain after delivering a pass early in the first quarter of the Bulls 92-72 win over the Indiana Pacers Monday March 5, 2012 at the United Center. He left the game shortly thereafter. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 6, 2012 3:21PM

With everything else in place for the Bulls — they’ve won seven consecutive games, have the best record in the NBA (32-8), a healthy Derrick Rose and they play 16 of their final 26 regular-season games at home — Richard Hamilton’s latest injury puts the focus on general manager Gar Forman. If Hamilton can’t be counted on, do the Bulls need to make a trade before the March 15 deadline?

Don’t hold your breath. Forman, John Paxson and Tom Thibodeau like their team with or without Hamilton — and it’s hard to blame them. Hamilton’s shoulder injury, which he suffered in the first minute of the Bulls’ 92-72 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at the United Center, actually bumps the Bulls into their most productive starting lineup.

With Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer starting, the Bulls are 12-1 this season (13-1 if you include Monday night’s game, when Brewer played 39 minutes and Hamilton played 83 seconds). The only loss was at Atlanta (109-94), when the Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights and third straight on the road. Since then they’ve won 10 straight with that lineup, all by nine points or more, with an average margin of 17 points.

Paxson, Forman and Thibodeau have put together an improved team that can handle the rigors of the post-lockout regular-season better than most. The Bulls are 11-2 in the tail end of back-to-back games, including nine straight after beating the Pacers on Monday night.

Thibodeau gives the Bulls a big advantage, especially in an unconventional season. Carlos Boozer credited Thibodeau with keeping the team focused on the moment — getting better in practice, concentrating on the woeful Charlotte Bobcats instead of the Celtics two days later or the showdown with the Heat the following week.

When asked, from an opposing coach’s perspective, what the Bulls’ most admirable quality is after Derrick Rose, Pacers coach Frank Vogel didn’t hesitate. ‘‘Tom Thibodeau and the system that they have in place,’’ he said. ‘‘The fact that they go long stretches with guys on the injury list and they don’t’ skip a beat because they play the right way. They [work] their tails off. They share the ball offensively and execute.’’

But what happens when everybody else gets a chance to catch their breath in the playoffs? What happens when every team’s focus is on the next game? Will the Bulls still have the same advantage when the marathon becomes a sprint? The Bulls and Pacers played five games in 13 days in their first-round playoff series last season. NBA teams are playing seven and eight games in that span during the compressed post-lockout schedule this season.

Though it doesn’t seem critical right now, the postseason is when the upgrade that Hamilton gives the Bulls might be missed. If not against the Pacers or Knicks or Hawks or Magic, there is still the daunting prospect of a seven-game series with the Heat to win the Eastern Conference.

Do the Bulls have enough without Hamilton to beat the Heat?

‘‘A hundred percent,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘I think the guys that came back from last year are better than last year. And hungrier. Obviously we want everybody to be healthy. We want to be healthy going into the playoffs. Knock on wood, hopefully we will be. But once we get to that point, whoever we got, we ride with.’’

Hamilton has missed 17 of the Bulls’ 40 games this season, including Monday night. He’s never played more than five consecutive games. He suffered a groin injury in his fourth game on Dec. 30 against the Clippers. He aggravated it on Jan. 4 against the Pistons. He suffered a thigh bruise on Jan. 25 against the Pacers. And Monday he suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to simply stop playing in the middle of a possession.

It could be awhile before he’s back. But Thibideau did not want to contemplate the Bulls’ prospectus without Hamilton down the stretch and into the playoffs.

‘‘I don’t look at it that way,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’re hopeful he’ll be back sooner rather than later. We’re disappointed for him because he put a lot of work in to getting back. But we also feel we have more than enough to win with.’’

That’s a tough call. Even if the Bulls wanted to make a move, there’s an inherent risk. The Bulls seem so dependent on energy-and-effort, chemistry, selflessness and Thibodeau molding a team that fits his philosophy that even Dwight Howard — believe it or not — would come with some trepidation.

Then again, Thibodeau is flexible enough to work anybody into his overall scheme, whether they fit his philosophy or not. ‘‘One thing I like that Thibs has done is he’s taken different offenses from the teams that his players have come from and incorporated that into their offense,’’ New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams said. ‘‘You’ll see the cross-screen from Utah, you’ll see the flex from Utah; you’ll see the old Chicago play for Deng before he got there; you’ll see the Memphis play for Kyle Korver that they ran in Philly; They brought a lot of good stuff from other teams and all those guys are used to it.’’

More than likely the Bulls will stick with what they’ve got and take their chances. You can’t blame them for liking their odds. But their chances of taking that next step are still better with Hamilton than without him.

‘‘We know what he brings to the table. We know his history,’’ Brewer said. ‘‘One of the best guys to move without the basketball, what he does shooting wise.

‘‘Most important team is we have him down the stretch. We felt pretty positive about him coming back and slowly but surely working his way and getting minutes. His shot was coming back. His conditioning was coming back. It’s just unfortunate he came up and got hurt. Hopefully it’s not as serious as it looked and we can get him back on the court, because he’s definitely missed.’’

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