CHICAGO -- Just in case anyone forgot, Kirk Hinrich showed he's not a bad point guard, either.
Hinrich scored 24 points filling in for injured phenom Derrick Rose, and the Chicago Bulls beat Detroit 99-91 Tuesday night to pull within a game of the seventh-place Pistons in the Eastern Conference.
"By no means is Kirk a backup point guard," Chicago's John Salmons said. "But we've got the best backup point guard in the league."
This hasn't been an easy season for Hinrich, but he was at his best on a night when his team needed it. With Rose sidelined, the veteran delivered a performance that brought back memories of his first five years, when he was the starter and the Bulls made three straight playoffs.
Of course, everything changed after last season's free fall.
Hinrich lost his job when the Bulls drafted Rose with the No. 1 pick, then sustained a thumb injury early on that knocked him out for 30 games.
"It's been challenging at times, just trying to stay with it," he said. "I feel like I've been playing well lately in somewhat limited minutes. I'm just trying to stay in and do whatever I can to help the team make the playoffs."
Consider this performance one big assist from Hinrich, who actually distributed eight.
He had plenty of help from the rest of the starters -- all of whom scored in double figures while playing at least 29 minutes.
Ben Gordon scored 19, Tyrus Thomas had 18 points and 12 rebounds, Joakim Noah scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Salmons added 16 points as the Bulls earned their fifth win in six games. More importantly, they now lead Charlotte by two games and Milwaukee by 2½ in the race for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot and are right behind seventh-place Detroit, which has lost five of six.
Tayshaun Prince and Will Bynum scored 20 each for the Pistons, who clearly miss injured stars Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton. Bynum also had nine assists while Antonio McDyess scored 16, but the Bulls simply pulled away in the second half.
"We really need those guys back," Prince said. "But at the same time, while they're not here, we've got to figure out a way in the situation we have. We almost have to play perfect basketball to come out with a win."
Trailing by one early in the third, Chicago scored 10 straight to go ahead for good, 60-51, and broke it open early in the fourth. An off-balance Thomas started the final quarter by banking a short transition jumper and buried the free throw, and Hinrich followed with a jumper that made it 80-68. Another layup by Hinrich midway through the quarter made it 92-73, and while he certainly didn't make anyone forget about Rose, the veteran did an admirable job filling in for the star rookie.
His only failure was at the end, when he missed the second of two free throws and denied fans the free Big Macs that come when the Bulls score 100. They let him hear it then and during a postgame interview. Otherwise, he gave them plenty to cheer.
"I've got a thicker skin than that," a grinning Hinrich said.
Tuesday's game was the first of two remaining between these old rivals, who are jockeying for playoff positioning while dealing with injuries.
Rose's absence was a mild surprise for the Bulls, considering he wound up playing 39 minutes at Washington the previous night despite injuring the wrist on a dunk attempt in the second quarter. X-rays and an MRI showed no damage. Even so, he was in too much pain to play on Tuesday.
The Pistons, meanwhile, have their injury issues.
Iverson missed his 14th game in a row with a sore back, while Wallace (strained left calf) and Hamilton (strained left groin) missed their eighth and fifth straight, respectively. Clearly, the Pistons miss their stars. Then again, they weren't exactly rolling when they were healthy.
They dropped eight in a row before Iverson went down, and after a four-game win streak, the losses started piling up again.
"We need to stay the course and try to control what we can control," Pistons coach Michael Curry said.
Curry said Hamilton might be ready for Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but Wallace's return appeared unlikely. Iverson might not return until the end of the month. ... The Bulls have won six straight at home against the Pistons. ... The Bulls used just eight players, and the only reserve to log more than five minutes was Brad Miller with just under 24. F Tim Thomas and G Linsey Hunter each played less than five.
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