Chicago 97, Detroit 81

CHICAGO, Jan. 19 (AP) -- In a season of great disappointment, the Chicago Bulls have played their best basketball against the team they couldn't get by in last year's playoffs.

Ben Gordon had 33 points Saturday night and the Bulls came up with some tough fourth-quarter defense that has been lacking this season to beat the Detroit Pistons 97-81.

The Bulls are now 3-0 against the team that eliminated them in the Eastern Conference semifinals in six games last spring.

In the regular season, it's been totally different -- Chicago has won six of the last seven between the rivals, dating to last year.

So how can the Bulls, who are 16-23, be so effective against one of the best teams in the NBA?

"We know they are really tough. Thing is we have a lot of respect for them, so we come out and try to play our 'A' game,'' Gordon said.

The Bulls outscored the Pistons 26-14 in the final period, holding them to 5-for-18 shooting.

"We were just making plays. For whatever reason whenever we've had a lead, especially at home, we've made a bunch of stupid plays near the end that hurt us,'' Gordon said. "We just kept control of the lead and controlled the tempo.''

Chicago's Andres Nocioni added 21 points in place of the injured Luol Deng, who was out with a sore Achilles' tendon. And guard Thabo Sefolosha pitched in 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for the Bulls.

Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 27 points on a night when Detroit was hurt by Rasheed Wallace's foul problems. He finished with as many points (four) as fouls.

Billups, who had 15 points in the third quarter when the Pistons made a strong run, is also puzzled by Detroit's problems with the Bulls.

"At the start of the fourth, it kind of got away from us a little bit,'' he said. "I don't know what it is, but in the regular season, the last couple of years, they've really have kind of had our number.''

The Bulls were nursing a 76-70 lead in the fourth, then ran off 10 straight points and were ready to take control with a 16-point lead.

But Billups hit a 3-pointer and Jarvis Hayes made a free throw when fouled on the same play, and the Pistons were back within 10. But the mini-rally fizzled when Bulls rookie Joakim Noah tipped in a shot, Gordon connected on a 3-pointer and the long-armed, 6-foot-7 Sefolosha dunked to put the Bulls back up 13.

Chicago point guard Chris Duhon had to be carried off the floor with just more than eight minutes left after Billups' knee hit his as he was going through a screen trying to defend the Detroit guard. Duhon was diagnosed with a left knee sprain and after the game, Bulls coach Jim Boylan called it a bruise.

Duhon, still in pain after the game, had X-rays and could have more testing.

"Nothing is ruled out yet. We don't believe there is ligament damage,'' Duhon said. "I've had knee-to-knee collisions before and it didn't feel like this. There were a lot of things going through my head.''

The Bulls expanded a nine-point halftime lead to 13 in the third quarter when former Pistons center Ben Wallace hit his second jumper of the game right before the shot clock buzzer.

But Billups scored nine points in a 15-3 run as the Pistons came right back, even as Rasheed Wallace went to the bench with his fourth foul. The spurt cut the lead to one before Chicago put it back to 71-67 with a quarter remaining.

Sefolosha's 3-pointer and a basket by Nocioni put Chicago ahead by nine early in the fourth, and there were no final-quarter meltdowns by the Bulls.

Rasheed Wallace committed his third foul late in the second quarter and it helped the Bulls go on an 18-3 run. Nocioni's basket and subsequent three-point play after the foul, and a three-point play by Gordon helped the Bulls build an eight-point lead.

Kirk Hinrich's jumper with 6 seconds left put Chicago ahead 50-41 at the half.

Hinrich, who'd missed the previous three games with back spasms, didn't start but entered the game four minutes into the opening quarter. Looking a little stiff at the outset, Hinrich worked himself into the flow of the game and finished the half with six points. He had eight points in 26 minutes.

Notes: Deng was inactive after his sore left Achilles' flared up. He missed three games earlier this month with the injury. ... The Bulls are 7-6 under Boylan.

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