While the NBA-best Chicago Bulls faced little difficulty in extending their winning steak last time out, they again may have lost a key component for the foreseeable future.
With Richard Hamilton's status uncertain, the surging Bulls visit the Bradley Center seeking a second consecutive season sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
Hamilton has appeared in just 16 games due to a slew of injuries and suffered another one during Monday's 92-72 rout of Indiana. The veteran swingman exited in the opening minutes with a right shoulder injury after running into a screen set by Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
Hamilton has averaged just 5.0 points while appearing in five games during Chicago's season-high seven-game winning streak. What could prove to be his third lengthy absence, however, creates further uncertainty as to how much the Bulls (32-8) can expect from him come playoff time.
"We hope that Rip's not too hurt," Joakim Noah, who pulled down 17 rebounds, told the team's official website. "We need him to get to where we want to get to ... The whole team is on the same page. We're about the right things. We've got to keep it up. I know the city is proud now. We've got to keep representing and we'll be all right.
"Hopefully he'll get some massage. We'll call the spirits and make sure he's all right and hopefully he'll be back on the court soon."
One night after matching a season high with 35 points in Sunday's 96-91 win at Philadelphia, Derrick Rose scored just 13 versus the Pacers. Luol Deng, though, stepped up with 20 points as Chicago avenged an earlier loss to Indiana.
"We don't want teams to keep beating us. No matter what," Deng said. "We feel we're good enough to beat anyone in this league. When a team keeps beating you, that's giving you a message."
The Bulls have certainly sent a message to Milwaukee (15-23) of late, taking seven straight from the Bucks since the start of 2010-11. Despite playing without Hamilton in all three meetings this season, Chicago has outscored coach Scott Skiles' team by an average of 16.3 points.
After going winless on a recently completed three-game road swing, Milwaukee returned home to defeat the 76ers 97-93 on Monday. The Bucks limited Philadelphia to 38 points in the second half en route to their third win in 12 games.
"It's not magic," Skiles said. "There's no magic dust that's sprinkled on anybody. They put their foot down a little bit."
Brandon Jennings paced the offense, making 4 of 8 from 3-point range and scoring 33 points. Jennings has averaged 31.3 points and shot 31 free throws in three games this month following a 13-game stretch in which he scored 13.5 per contest and attempted 39 foul shots.
"Just attacking. One thing is I'm trying to get to the free-throw line more, just throwing my body in there," Jennings told the league's official website. "I'm trying to pick up the pace a little bit."
Jennings has been limited to 8.3 points per contest during Milwaukee's three-game home losing streak versus Chicago, including eight points during a 113-90 defeat Feb. 4.
Six of the Bucks' last seven home games have been decided by five points or fewer.
The Bulls have won eight of nine on the road, with the only loss coming 95-91 at Boston on Feb. 12 with Rose sidelined.