Richard Hamilton could play for the first time since March 5, but Derrick Rose is expected to miss his 10th consecutive game with a groin injury when the Bulls face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday in a nationally televised game (Noon, Ch. 7) in Oklahoma City.
Hamilton, who has missed the last 14 games with a bruised shoulder, felt ready to play against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, but was held out by coach Tom Thibodeau. And with back-to-back games against the Thunder on the road and the Houston Rockets on Monday at the United Center, it's possible Hamilton won't play against the Thunder, either.
Thibodeau acknowledged that Hamilton will have to ease his way back because of the nature of the injury -- and a nationally televised marquee game that gets the competitive juices flowing might not be the best place to test a sore shoulder for the first time in nearly four weeks. The Rockets at home might be a more prudent spot for Hamilton's return.
One thing is for sure: Thibodeau and the Bulls are being much more careful about injuries than they were earlier in the season. Rose sounded much less willing to throw caution to the wind after Saturday's practice at the Berto Center than he did even week ago.
A game against the Thunder and stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant is difficult for a player like Rose to pass up. ''It's not tempting at all. I'm worried about my health,'' Rose said. ''I think any ballplayer would want to play in a game like that. But every game has been tempting. I just haven't been able to play.''
Rose said he is ''improving every day,'' but still has not scrimmaged in practice and said he won't play in a game until he does. After Monday's game against the Rockets, the Bulls play just four games in the following 12 games-- a leisurely pace compared to the rest of the post-lockout season schedule. So with four off days next week around a game against the Celtics on Thursday at the United Center, Rose could return April 8 against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden or April 10 against the Knicks at the United Center.