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Richard Hamilton might not be done just yet

Shooting guard Richard Hamilthas only played 45 games is averaging 10.2 points. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Shooting guard Richard Hamilton has only played in 45 games and is averaging 10.2 points. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Saturday

Pacers at Bulls

The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 9, 1000-AM.

Updated: April 24, 2013 6:18AM



The demise of Richard Hamilton might have been exaggerated.

Hamilton was all by himself Friday at the Berto Center, putting up shots and testing his injured back with the hope of still making an impact this season. Considering Hamilton, 35, rarely has been seen since last playing on Feb. 26, this can be considered progress.

His back was in such bad shape that he didn’t even bother making the trip to the West Coast last week to avoid having to sit on an airplane for hours.

“[Hamilton is] feeling a little bit better,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He did a little bit of shooting [Friday afternoon].’’

Speculation was growing that Hamilton might have played his last game with the Bulls in that loss to the Cavaliers last month, especially with the Bulls holding a team option for next season at $5 million.

Hamilton, who has played in only 45 games and is averaging 10.2 points, appears expendable because the Bulls are hoping to re-sign free agent-to-be Marco Belinelli.

That doesn’t mean Hamilton doesn’t have value for the rest of the season, especially in the playoffs.

“Oh, yeah, we want him to get healthy and get back,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s got to work hard on his rehab. He’s never had a problem with the back before, so hopefully it will move along quickly.

“The thing is, he has veteran playoff experience, a catch-and-shoot game and the ability to make plays. Most teams are going to trap him, and when you get two on the ball, it’s going to be easy offense.’’

Hamilton again declined to talk to the media, which has been a running theme during his latest injury.

But even if Hamilton can return from the back problems, Thibodeau couldn’t guarantee he’d be back in the starting lineup.

When he injured his foot earlier this season and missed 12 games in December, Belinelli stepped in and played solid basketball. But when Hamilton returned, it was right back to the starting lineup. That might not be the case this time.

“That’s too far down the road,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ll figure it out when we get there. I just want him to get healthy and get back.’’

It won’t be against the Central Division-leading Pacers on Saturday, when the Bulls could really use his offense. Indiana is 3-0 against the Bulls.

“The [Pacers] are a good team,’’ Thibodeau said. “They’re in the same division. You give them credit because they continue to get better. They’re hard-playing and play unselfishly, and they’re well-coached. I have a lot of respect for them.’’

Kirk Hinrich (foot) and Taj Gibson (knee) had no setbacks after returning in the loss Thursday against the Trail Blazers.

Derrick Rose’s situation, however, remains the great unknown.

“It never ends, and you never have it solved, so you’ve got to keep grinding,’’ Thibodeau said of working through all the injury problems. “You’ve got to enjoy and embrace the challenge of moving forward. Things can change quickly in this league both ways.’’



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