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Rip Hamilton might return Friday against the Pistons

ATLANTA GA - MARCH 28:  Taj Gibs#22 Chicago Bulls loses ball against Josh Smith #5 AtlantHawks Philips ArenMarch 28

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 28: Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls loses the ball against Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 28, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\142039461.jpg

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Updated: April 30, 2012 8:33AM



ATLANTA — Rip Hamilton missed his 13th consecutive game with a bruised shoulder Wednesday night, but he could play against the Detroit Pistons, his former team, on Friday at the United Center.

Hamilton went through a contact drill with teammate Brian Scalabrine before the Bulls’ shootaround at Philips Arena. Coach Tom Thibodeau held him out against the Atlanta Hawks as a precaution. But his return appears imminent for the first time since he suffered the injury March 5 against the Indiana Pacers.

‘‘Today was actually the first time I did a little bumpin’,’’ Hamilton said. ‘‘That’s what me and Scal were doing — him chasing me and bumping and having a little contact. It was good because that’s the biggest thing with me, getting hit, the contact. I’m happy with my progress.’’

Hamilton, 34, has played in only 16 of the Bulls’ 52 games because of injuries. The leg injuries that sidelined him earlier have healed, but he’s going to have to gut it out to a degree with the shoulder when he returns.

‘‘I know that it’s not going to be pain-free,’’ he said with a chuckle. ‘‘We just want to prevent me from aggravating it. [There’s] going to be pain. But as long as I can get my hand over my shoulder and am able to shoot the ball, I’ll be fine.’’

The Bulls are 29-7 without Hamilton, but after hitting a lull in the last week, they could use the boost.

‘‘He gives us a catch-and-shoot game,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He moves without the ball and is a playmaker. Most teams trap him off catch-and-shoot, and he’s a good playmaker, so it adds a lot to our offense.’’

Instant offense

John Lucas III replaced C.J. Watson to start the second quarter and made a pull-up jumper 18 seconds later and scored 10 points in the quarter — typical of the instant offense Lucas has provided when Derrick Rose is out.

Lucas usually is out of the rotation when Rose and Watson are healthy. Has Lucas earned minutes even when Rose returns?

‘‘Depending on matchups,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘If we need two point guards on the floor, he’s shown that he can handle speed well. And C.J. also. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.’’

Raining threes

The Bulls made 13 of 20 three-pointers in their 108-91 loss Monday against the Denver Nuggets and maintained their red-hot pace against the Hawks, making 7 of 7 threes until Lucas missed a forced one at the end of the second quarter.

Luol Deng, who was in a 4-for-26 three-point-shooting slump, made his first five three-pointers.

The stopper

Josh Smith tormented the Bulls in the second round of the playoffs last season and picked up where he left off with nine points in the first 8:15.

But Taj Gibson came off the bench to put the clamps on him.

Smith went 0-for-4 against Gibson and 0-for-7, including an air ball, until scoring inside against Joakim Noah with 16 seconds left in the first half.



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