Chicago 106, Detroit 88

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., April 4 (AP) -- With two weeks left in the regular season, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls are playing for postseason positioning.

Only one team looked like it Wednesday night.

Kirk Hinrich scored 29 points, Luol Deng added 22 and the Ben Wallace-less Bulls beat the listless Pistons 106-88.

"It is significant because we are trying to move up,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.

Detroit's magic number is four to clinch home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs over Cleveland, which plays at Detroit on Sunday, with seven games left for both teams.

But the Cavaliers are ahead of Chicago by just a half-game in the Central Division.

If the Pistons hold onto their lead, the Bulls and Cavs will compete for home-court advantage in what looks like a probable first-round matchup.

Wallace missed the game against his former team after going to the hospital with sinus inflammation, and his absence seemed to deflate a crowd fired up to jeer him again.

It also may have led to the Pistons underestimating the Bulls, whose offensive production made up for the lack Wallace's defense.

"The game was as emotionally not playing against him, and not as much fun,'' Chauncey Billups said.

Chicago took control of the game with a 16-4 run - with Hinrich scoring half of its points - to end the third quarter for a 84-69 lead. Until that burst, it was a tightly contested game with 15 lead changes and eight ties.

The game almost took an ugly turn with 8:12 left.

Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Chicago's Tyrus Thomas were ejected with two technical fouls while play was stopped after exchanging heated words and being separated.

While walking off the court toward their locker rooms, both players had to be separated again.

Thomas said he was hit in the face with what appeared to be a tube of lip balm.

"I don't know what it was, but I'm OK,'' Thomas said.

Auburn Hills police Lt. James Manning would not identify the fan, who allegedly threw the object, but said he was a 24-year-old male from Southfield.

"He was arrested and issued a citation for throwing an object in the arena,'' Manning said.

Hamilton - and many of his teammates - had a frustrating night.

The 20-point scorer had more fouls (five) and turnovers (four) than points (three).

Hamilton, who has been called for 15 technicals, is aware that he is a technical away from a one-game suspension.

"I've got to watch out,'' he said. "I have to be careful.''

Billups scored 17, Rasheed Wallace had 16 points and Chris Webber added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons, who had won five of six.

The Pistons played their third game in four days, but Billups said that wasn't a legitimate excuse.

"The came out aggressive and had a lot more energy,'' he said. "They looked like they wanted it more than us.''

Chicago, which has clinched a spot in the playoffs, has won six of its last seven games.

Thabo Sefolosha, who entered the starting lineup with Wallace out, had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Chicago's P.J. Brown, who moved to center in Wallace's place, scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Thomas added 13 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes.

Ben Gordon had four fouls early in the second half and finished with just two points after entering the game averaging a team-high 21.5 points.

"With Ben Gordon in foul trouble, a person that we get a lot of offense from every night, other guys had to step up,'' Hinrich said. "Plus, we did a good job of moving the ball and it kind of solved all the problems offensively.''

The Bulls beat Detroit in three of four games this season, winning the season series for the first time since 1998 when Michael Jordan led them to their sixth title in eight years.

Notes: The Bulls hope Wallace, who was to fly home with the team, will not miss another game because of his illness. ... Some Tigers, including pitchers Todd Jones and Mike Maroth, attended the game wearing the AL-championship rings they received earlier in the day. ... The Bulls are hopeful Andres Nocioni (right foot) will play Friday at home against New Jersey. ... If the Pistons (48-27) are playing a Central Division game or it's Wednesday, they seem to be in trouble. They are just 8-7 in division games and 5-10 on Wednesday.

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