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Bulls finally get assistance from Rip Hamilton in victory

Derrick Rose gets by Gustavo Ayfor shot. He scored 32 points took over down stretch. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Derrick Rose gets by Gustavo Ayon for a shot. He scored 32 points and took over down the stretch. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: April 1, 2012 8:22AM

The Bulls lead the league in assists per game, which is more impressive considering Rip Hamilton played in only 11 games before the All-Star break.

Hamilton returned to the starting lineup Tuesday in a 99-95 victory over New Orleans at the United Center, and a team that shares the ball better than any other became noticeably more proficient in that all-important area.

The Hornets wouldn’t go away, though, going on a 13-0 run for a 95-91 lead with 1:26 left before Derrick Rose took over and his teammates made four defensive stops while ending the game by scoring eight straight.

“We do it together, but that kid is special, man,” Carlos Boozer said of Rose.

Rose had 32 points and nine assists, but he might not have had to do as much late had Hamilton been able to play more. The Bulls outscored New Orleans by 12 during the 17 minutes that Hamilton was on the floor.

“Derrick figures out what you need, and that’s what he’s going to provide,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.

It was the first time the Bulls have had their starting five on the court since Jan. 4. The Bulls are 5-1 with Rose, Hamilton, Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah as starters.

It’s critical that the Bulls receive a bigger return on the offseason acquisition of Hamilton, who management believes can propel them past the Heat and into the NBA Finals.

“Hamilton’s decision-making stands out,” Boozer said. “He does a great job of making the right pass.”

Hamilton scored the first three points when he went flying across the lane to receive a pass from Noah for a layup, plus the free throw. He repaid Noah with two passes for dunks before leaving in the first quarter with the Bulls up 22-13.

“Whatever the defense gives me is what I’m going to take, whether it’s scoring or passing,” Hamilton said.

When Hamilton returned to start the third quarter, he passed the ball back to Deng on a fast break for an easy basket, fired a great pass inside for a lay-in by Boozer and penetrated before passing the ball out to Deng for a wide-open three-pointer. Hamilton had five points, five assists and two rebounds and expects to play Wednesday in San Antonio.

“When [Hamilton] is out there, we just have to learn to hit open shots because that’s what we’re going to have,” Rose said.

Rose had a chance to make it 10 consecutive Bulls points but missed two free throws with 4.3 seconds left, preventing the UC fans from winning free Big Macs.

“I felt like Jackie Moon from ‘Semi-Pro,’ ’’ Rose said of Will Ferrell’s character in the 2008 comedy. “That’s all I was thinking about. I saved McDonald’s a lot of money. They should be happy.”

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