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updated: 12/28/2012 6:50 PM

How will Hamilton's return affect Belinelli?

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  • Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, left, passes the ball to guard Luke Ridnour as Bulls guard Marco Belinelli, center, reaches.

      Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, left, passes the ball to guard Luke Ridnour as Bulls guard Marco Belinelli, center, reaches.
    Associated Press

  • Richard Hamilton shoots past Memphis Grizzlies forward Michael Dunigan during a preseason game.

      Richard Hamilton shoots past Memphis Grizzlies forward Michael Dunigan during a preseason game.
    Associated Press

  • Bulls guard Richard Hamilton (32) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks' Doron Lamb, left, and Beno Udrih. T

      Bulls guard Richard Hamilton (32) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks' Doron Lamb, left, and Beno Udrih. T
    Associated Press

 
 

Is there room in the Bulls' rotation for two shooting guards?

A better question is whether they can get two shooting guards playing well at the same time.

Marco Belinelli got off to a miserable start this season. But ever since a foot injury knocked Richard Hamilton out of action on Dec. 1, Belinelli has been pretty good in a starting role.

Hamilton practiced Friday and is hoping to return to game action when the Bulls host Washington at the United Center on Saturday.

"It's looking real good," Hamilton said at the Berto Center. "We want to see how my body responds in the morning time and then me and Thibs are going to talk."

Coach Tom Thibodeau was encouraged by Hamilton's performance and made it sound as though an unexpected setback would be needed to keep the veteran guard off the floor.

"Rip was really good today," Thibodeau said. "He did the whole practice well."

Hamilton thinks he'll need to ease back into the lineup. So in the short term, Hamilton could step back in as the starter and Belinelli would still get extended minutes. Eventually, though, Thibodeau will have to find a way to get both players working well in divided time.

Hamilton started the first 15 games of the season and averaged 13.9 points in 27.1 minutes. Coming off the bench, Belinelli averaged 5 points, shot well below 40 percent and did very little to earn the coach's confidence.

After becoming a starter, Belinelli looked like a completely different player, averaging 15.3 points.

"Hopefully he can continue to play that way," Hamilton said of Belinelli. "It gives us another weapon. I don't think anything different when I come back. I want to put the same amount of pressure I'm going to put that pressure on him, too, to play the same exact way, because we're going to need it."

Did Belinelli outperform Hamilton as a starter? Not really. Belinelli has been averaging 36 minutes per game, so Hamilton has a better scoring average per minute played. Hamilton also has an edge in field-goal percentage (.455 to .432) and assists (2.3 to 1.8).

In theory, Hamilton and Belinelli could play together at small forward and shooting guard. But that doesn't figure to happen very often if Luol Deng stays healthy. When there's a tough defensive assignment, Thibodeau likes to use Jimmy Butler with Deng at the wing positions.

"The thing is, they have great versatility," Thibodeau said, "so I can play Marco and Rip together, probably Rip and Jimmy together. Lu can play with everybody, so we have great versatility in our wings. So, I can't see a problem there."

Point guard Kirk Hinrich expressed no concerns about splitting time between the two shooting guards

"I think any time you can add depth to the team, it makes us much better," Hinrich said. "Marco played great when Rip was out. Rip was playing great before he got hurt. It's good to have both of them with high confidence right now."

Hamilton tore the plantar fascia in his left foot during a game against Philadelphia on Dec. 1. The injury did not require surgery.

"I can still feel it some," he said. "There's still swelling there, but I think with me trying to get out there, the swelling will eventually go away. We've been doing everything trying to get back."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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