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Rip Hamilton: No relief from grief on bench

Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamiltplayed 17 minutes had five points five assists Tuesday night against New Orleans Hornets. | Jonathan

Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton played 17 minutes and had five points and five assists Tuesday night against the New Orleans Hornets. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: April 1, 2012 8:21AM

Missing 24 games because of injuries in the first half was difficult. For Rip Hamilton, the death of his grandmother before the All-Star break made sitting on the bench that much harder.

“With the loss of my grandma, you look at basketball as a place where you can relieve all the stress and things like that and to get your mind off of stuff like that,” he said. “I couldn’t go there. I didn’t have that. So it was definitely, definitely tough on me not having the opportunity to go out and play with having something going on off the floor.”

Hamilton returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Hornets at the United Center after playing only 11 games this season after trying to come back too soon from thigh and groin injuries.

Hamilton has not played more than five consecutive games for the Bulls.

“My mind was telling me I’m all right, but my body was telling me something different,” Hamilton said. “That’s the biggest thing I have to get over as an athlete. That’s just being an athlete. You want to play; you want to get out on the floor. You don’t care how you feel.”

Hamilton averaged 14.2 points and was at his highest comfort level with the team in the games leading up to his latest injury.

He had his top-three scoring outputs of the season before sitting out a Jan. 27 game against Milwaukee. He attempted to play the next game against Indiana but reaggravated a thigh injury.

Hamilton’s minutes will be monitored closely.

“I do a lot of running, a lot of cutting, a lot of stop-and-gos,’’ Hamilton said. ‘‘So my legs are everything to me, especially with running. I’ve built my game off conditioning and coming off curls and things like that. So it’s very important.”

James released

The Bulls released point guard Mike James, who has been a valuable contributor in two tours with the team this season, including a 16-point, seven-assist effort Feb. 18 against the Nets.

“There’s always that chance,” coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if James could sign another 10-day contract.

“The one thing: He did a great job for us in both stints. Mike stays ready. You can count on that part, and then if there’s the need, we wouldn’t hesitate to bring him back.”

Title the difference

Hornets coach Monty Williams is impressed with what the Bulls have done since Derrick Rose arrived but said the atmosphere at the United Center doesn’t compare to the Michael Jordan years.

“I don’t think it’s even close to that yet,” Williams said. “They do a really good job here, and they’re on their way, but I played against Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen and [Dennis] Rodman. That was a different beast. If you didn’t watch yourself, when they called out Jordan’s name, you kind of got caught up in it. There’s a little bit of that with Rose, but it’s not the same. You have to win a title first and make this a tough place to play from that standpoint. It’s a tough place to play anyway, but when you have a title, it separates you. That’s the difference.”

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