CHICAGO -- Luol Deng understands it might not mean much if the Chicago Bulls are still banged up once the playoffs roll around. Even so, he has a good feeling as the post-season approaches.
"I think we learned so much from last year," he said. "I think as a group, we're more confident this year."
A run to the Eastern Conference finals whetted their appetite. Now, they're looking for more, but there's still work to be done before they can really get down to business. Games like this are just another step, another obstacle, and they keep finding ways to clear them.
Deng scored 20 points, Joakim Noah added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Chicago beat the Detroit Pistons 83-71 on Friday night.
The Bulls scored the final eight points after the Pistons closed within four with just under 5 minutes left and came away with their 14th straight win against Detroit. In the process, they improved their league-best record to 42-11, even though star Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton remained sidelined by injuries.
Deng came through again after scoring 22 in in a lopsided win over Atlanta on Wednesday and Noah was his usual relentless self, helping Chicago win again despite all its bumps and bruises.
Rose missed his ninth straight game because of a right groin injury, but the Bulls improved to 14-5 without the defending league MVP. Hamilton has barely been able to get on the court because of a variety of injuries after signing with Chicago.
He was hoping to return from a sprained right shoulder against his former team, but he sat out this 13th consecutive game after participating in the morning shootaround and going through warmups. Whether he or Rose plays Sunday at Oklahoma City remains to be seen, although coach Tom Thibodeau said Hamilton is "real close."
"I just thought another day would be good," he said. "I talked to him before the game. I was not quite comfortable with him playing yet."
The Pistons were hardly a picture of health with Rodney Stuckey (sore left hamstring) and Ben Gordon (sore right groin). Austin Daye started at shooting guard and finished with 11 points.
Brandon Knight scored 16 points, and Tayshaun Prince had 14 after tying a season high with 29 in an 87-75 win over Cleveland on Wednesday. Greg Monroe added 14 points and 10 rebounds, but the Pistons remained winless against the Bulls since beating them at the Palace of Auburn Hills in December 2008.
They were dominated 53-37 on the boards and got outscored 38-24 in the paint. They shot just under 37 per cent for the game. They didn't even attempt a free throw until Jason Maxiell made 1 of 2 midway through the third, and they were 6 of 7 for the game. All that helps explain why they managed just 10 points in two of the four quarters and failed to crack 80 for the fourth time in five games.
"It just came down to a lot of offensive rebounds for them," Knight said. "They were able to finish off possessions."
The Bulls appeared to be in good shape after an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter made it 73-61, but the Pistons weren't finished.
They cut it to 75-71 on Knight's jumper with 4:50 left, but didn't score again after that. Chicago's C.J. Watson then hit two free throws, and Noah fed Boozer for a basket after rebounding a missed 3 by Kyle Korver, making it an eight-point game with just under four minutes left. A tip-in and dunk by Noah over the final 1:15 rounded out the scoring and preserved the win for the Bulls.
"He was tipping everything in, blocking shots, rebounding, running the court hard, making plays for everybody," Carlos Boozer said.
Notes: Thibodeau dismissed an ESPN.com report that he's "dismayed" the Bulls haven't given him a contract extension. "I don't know where that's coming from," he said. "I'm not worried about any of that stuff. I'm under contract. I'm fine with everything here." The Bulls hold an option on him for next year, and they probably would like to keep him, considering what he's accomplished in two seasons. ... Pistons coach Lawrence Frank couldn't resist taking a playful jab at the Bulls when asked before the game about Stuckey and Gordon. "They're both day-by-day," he said. "What has Derrick Rose been a game time decision for two weeks?" Stuckey was injured in the first quarter against Cleveland on Wednesday. Gordon missed his second straight game. ... The Bulls have won 12 straight at home against the Pistons since a loss on Feb. 24, 2006.