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Richard Hamilton returns to Bulls

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls guard Richard Hamilton's conscientious plan was to avoid taking any direct blows to his right shoulder against the Houston Rockets on Monday.

He had missed the Bulls' last 14 games due to a right shoulder injury, and the last thing he needed to was to take an unnecessary shot to the same place in his first game back.

But luck hasn't been on Hamilton's side all season, and that continued to be the case on Monday.

On the Bulls' first possession, Hamilton got the ball and shot-faked; Courtney Lee bit; and Hamilton's basketball instincts took over as he leaned his right shoulder into the off-balanced Lee while shooting the ball. Lee came right down on Hamilton's right shoulder.

"It was crazy because that was the one play I tried to stay away from -- a pump fake and a jumping into him," Hamilton said. "It was my luck it happened the first play of the game. It woke me up. The good thing about it was I was able to still fight through it. It was kind of like a stinger, a real sharp pain, but I was able to fight through it and still play."

That was the positive the Bulls took from Hamilton's first game back on Monday. He survived it.

"The first couple minutes was good," Hamilton said. "As the game went on, (I felt) fatigue in my shoulder. That was expected because this is the first time I got really an opportunity to play competitive basketball. I'm still feeling standing at the end of the game, so I feel good about it."

Hamilton's inconsistent play Monday -- 2-of-7 shooting, six points, five turnovers -- was no surprise after being out for nearly a month. He played well early -- scoring all six points and shooting 2 of 4 from the floor in the first quarter -- and struggled as the game went on.

"There was some good and some bad, about what I expected," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He has been out a long time. I thought at the start of the game he was very good. It's a baseline, but we have a long way to go."

But the Bulls don't need Hamilton to be reliable now. What the Bulls need from Hamilton is to be dependable -- and on the court -- come the playoffs. Monday was only Hamilton's 17th game of the season because of various injuries, and he hasn't played in more than five consecutive games.

Regardless, Hamilton was just happy to be playing again Monday.

"It felt good to be back out there battling with my teammates and stuff like that," Hamilton said.

His teammates agreed.

"It was great to see him out there," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said.