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Taj Gibson returns, but Rip Hamilton sits with bruised thigh

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 27: Beno Odrih #19 of the Milwaukee Bucks waits to shoot as Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls leaps past at the United Center on January 27, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) R:MerlinGetty_Photos137815541.jpg

If you think the condensed schedule has been tough on the players, imagine what the Bulls’ training staff is going through. Trainer Fred Tedeschi and his crew will have to treat themselves for cramps and dehydration if they are forced to keep up this pace much longer.

On a night when Taj Gibson returned to score two points and grab four rebounds after missing three games with a high ankle sprain, Rip Hamilton reappeared on the injured list with a bruised thigh sustained in Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers.

Hamilton was unable to finish the shootaround Friday morning and was considered a game-time decision, as was Gibson. Hamilton initially was listed as the starter at shooting guard, but he was replaced by Kyle Korver right before tipoff and didn’t play.

“[The ankle is] getting there,” Gibson said. “It’s getting stronger and stronger. I just have to play through it.”

Meanwhile, Luol Deng appeared ready to return, perhaps Sunday against the Miami Heat, despite a torn ligament in his left wrist. Deng has been effective defending Heat guard Dwayne Wade. After missing six consecutive games with an ankle injury, Wade was in the starting lineup Friday against the New York Knicks.

“Each day he’s getting better,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng. “He still has to take contact on it, but he’s moving in the right direction.”

Thibodeau isn’t worried about Deng being ready to play when he returns.

“The guy’s in great shape, stays in great shape,” he said. “The advantage that he has over most is he stays in great shape year-round. A lot of guys take time off in the summer from conditioning. He doesn’t. Unfortunately, he’s taken on an injury, [but] the fact that he’s in great shape helps him.”

Butler’s mentor

Though Deng is hurt, teammates continue to look to him for support, particularly rookie swingman Jimmy Butler.

With Deng officially day-to-day, Butler saw his first action in the rotation when he played just over six minutes ­Wednesday against the Pacers. He had two points, two ­turnovers and two fouls.

“I look up to Lu in so many ways,” he said. “He was a rookie at one point. And he took me under his wing.”

Butler didn’t have to wait long for his second opportunity. He had two points and a rebound in 9:23 against the Bucks.

“If there’s a need, we’re not afraid to play him,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a good player. He’ll do well.”

Not looking ahead

The Bulls begin a nine-game road trip – the third-longest in team history – Sunday in Miami, but Derrick Rose said playing the Heat is like any other team.

“It’s another game because it’s our next game,” Rose said. “We know it’s going to be hard. They’re a good team. We have to be ready for them.”