Chicago Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, left, goes up for a basket against Milwaukee Bucks' Francisco Elson, right, in the first half Wednesday.
MILWAUKEE - One might say the Bulls played with the passion of Nocioni on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
Their fiery and popular former teammate, Andres Nocioni, was traded to Sacramento earlier in the day. But the Bulls honored his memory with a scrappy, spirited 113-104 victory over the Bucks at the Bradley Center, which held a small crowd but a high percentage of Bulls fans.
The victory moved the Bulls (24-30) within 11/2 games of Milwaukee for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We could easily have an excuse for only having nine guys," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "But that's what being a pro is, going out there and playing, trying to do your best no matter what the circumstances are."
Here's an example of the emotions displayed by the visitors. Hinrich was livid after a no-call on a drive to the basket, and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro stepped up to take the technical foul before Hinrich did anything stupid. The ensuing free throw brought the Bucks within 89-86 with 6:52 remaining.
A few seconds later, though, Hinrich stripped Ramon Sessions at midcourt and finished an easy lay-in. Then after a Ben Gordon steal, Hinrich drained a 3-pointer to make it 94-86. Another Hinrich jumper stretched the lead to 10 with 4:58 left, and Milwaukee never made a serious threat.
"Sometimes you play best when you're angry," Hinrich said. "I got angry and we did a good job of continuing to get stops in the fourth quarter. It was a crazy game, a real physical game, kind of a wild game."
Hinrich finished with a season-high 31 points, hitting 5 of 8 attempts from 3-point range and scoring 18 in the fourth quarter.
Luol Deng added 21 points, while Gordon and Derrick Rose each scored 18. Richard Jefferson, rumored to be on his way out of Milwaukee in a cost-cutting move, poured in 32 points for the Bucks (27-30).
"The real factor in (Hinrich's) game was his defense," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "He took our guards and made us look pretty silly on several occasions because he was playing so hard and we were so casual."
Before the game, Deng cut an interview short and seemed to be feeling the emotions of losing Nocioni, his best friend on the Bulls and next-door neighbor.
"It's tough," Deng said. "You become friends with those guys. It's sad that we're not working together anymore, but at the same time you've got to understand we've got to get the job done. You've just got to keep in touch."
The Bulls had nine players in uniform, since Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin were traded to Sacramento for Brad Miller and John Salmons earlier in the day. Guard Larry Hughes was not with the team, either.
Hinrich passed Scottie Pippen for second place on the Bulls' list of all-time 3-pointers made. Gordon ranks first in the category.