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Hinrich, Thomas lead Bulls over Pistons
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Pistons center Antonio McDyess, left, battles Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas for the rebound. Thomas finished with 18 points and 10 boards.


Associated Press

Pistons forward Jason Maxiell, right, blocks the shot of center Joakim Noah. Noah finished with 15 points.


Associated Press

Bulls guard Ben Gordon, left, fights Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey for the loose ball.


Associated Press

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Published: 3/24/2009 10:03 PM | Updated: 3/25/2009 12:08 AM

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Kirk Hinrich hadn't played more than 36 minutes in any game this season. But with rookie Derrick Rose sidelined by a wrist injury, Hinrich returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 7.

He responded by producing a team-high 24 points and 8 assists in nearly 46 minutes of action as the Bulls improved their playoff position by handling the short-handed Detroit Pistons 99-91 on Tuesday night.

"It kind of sends your body into shock when you're not used to playing that many minutes," Hinrich said in the locker room.

Hinrich's reward for the extended effort? Getting booed by some of the United Center fans during his postgame interview, which aired on the videoboard. His offense was missing a free throw with 17.9 seconds left that would have given the fans free Big Macs.

He apologized on camera and wasn't fazed by the negative reaction.

"I have thicker skin than that," Hinrich said with a laugh. "Anytime you can get your fans involved like that, it's extra incentive."

The Bulls actually scored their 98th point with 2:32 remaining, so the whole team was at fault for falling short of the century mark.

Anyway, the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference standings probably aren't shaking in their high-tops at the thought of facing the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

But by taking care of Detroit, the Bulls (34-38) moved within 1 game of seventh place in the East.

The Pistons (34-36) were as bad as advertised, playing without Richard Hamilton (groin), Rasheed Wallace (calf) and Allen Iverson (back). Detroit has gone 12-24 since Jan. 10. The Bulls improved to 8-1 in their last nine home games and play seven of their final 10 contests at the United Center.

Rose watched from the bench with his right wrist heavily taped. The No. 1 draft pick banged his wrist on the rim during a missed dunk attempt late in the first half of Monday's 2-point victory at Washington.

Coach Vinny Del Negro didn't lengthen his rotation, keeping Hinrich, Ben Gordon and John Salmons on the floor for more than 45 minutes. But the Bulls did get strong performances from all five starters.

Gordon added 19 points and Salmons had 15. Tyrus Thomas (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 10 boards) collected double-doubles.

But the story after this win was how Hinrich stepped in and held everything together. He also helped limit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, who scored 40 against the Bulls on Dec. 23, to 14 points.

"By no means is Kirk a backup point guard," Salmons said. "We've got the best backup point guard in the league."

The game was tied at intermission following a sluggish first half. The Bulls built a 10-point lead on Noah's 3-point play with 5:32 left in the third quarter.

The home team took control early in the fourth, when a pair of 3-pointers by Salmons and a driving lay-in by Hinrich made it 92-73 with 6:04 remaining.

"I thought in the second quarter, the game got too slow for us," Del Negro said. "It shows the professionalism of Kirk Hinrich coming out and playing the way he did tonight. He gave us a huge lift."

Tayshaun Prince and Chicago native Will Bynum led Detroit with 20 points each. These teams play once more in Auburn Hills, Mich., on April 13 in the second-to-last game of the regular season.