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Bulls’ Hamilton hale, hearty and healthy

(MCT) — Richard Hamilton is happy he doesn’t play hockey. The veteran shooting guard couldn’t take another lockout.

The main acquisition before what was supposed to be a 2011-12 championship season for the Bulls spent much of it on ice, battling groin, thigh and shoulder injuries throughout and never consistently demonstrating his scoring savvy.

With Derrick Rose sidelined for several more months and Hamilton refreshed from a typically strong offseason routine that added the wrinkle of a personal therapist, is it too early to nominate the three-time All-Star for the league’s Most Improved Player award?

“I’m just happy everything is regular,” Hamilton said. “I said it from the beginning of the year, with that many games in a short amount of time, injuries were going to happen. I couldn’t get on the floor. Then when I did get on the floor, Derrick went out. It was crazy. This season is night and day, physically and mentally.”

Signed as the missing piece just 11 days before last season’s Christmas Day opener, Hamilton never found his rhythm. He played four games before succumbing to a sore left groin, returned for one and then missed eight more. After playing five games, he sat with a sore right thigh, returned for one and then missed 12 more.

Finally healthy from those maladies, Hamilton played four games and then suffered a sprained right shoulder in the first quarter of his fifth game back that sidelined him for the next 14.

A minimum-wage-paying job has more continuity.

“Last year, I didn’t get into play in training camp so everything was learned on the fly with no practices,” Hamilton said. “It’s fun for me now because I get an opportunity to learn (coach Tom Thibodeau) and the system.

“Offensively, I’ve always studied where shots will be and where things are open. Last year, I was like, ‘How do I use Carlos (Boozer) or (Joakim) Noah to my advantage? Then when I came back, I got hurt.”

Hamilton, who missed 38 games overall, averaged 11.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting.

“The issue with Rip has never been when he plays,” Thibodeau said. “The issue with Rip has been missing the games.

“He’s a terrific player because it’s not only his scoring, it’s his ability to make plays. Often off our catch-and-shoot plays, we’re getting paint catches because of the commitment the teams have to make to him. When two people are on him, he hits the open man. He has a ton of experience. That’s a big plus. He and Carlos play extremely well together so that’s another plus.”

Hamilton, 34, long has been one of the league’s most conditioned athletes. His ability to move without the ball and run defenders off screens is a byproduct of his offseasons, which feature a lot of distance running.

In a nod to his 14th season, Hamilton hired a therapist for stretching and massage work.

“When you play so long, people tell you you have to do certain stuff because you’re older,” he said. “I tell myself I think I’m still 27 sometimes. (I’m trying) to get an advantage.”

Which could work to the Bulls’ advantage.

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