MILWAUKEE — The Bulls' bus ride to Wisconsin on Wednesday afternoon sounded quiet for reasons beyond the fact that manic Andres Nocioni and free-spirited Drew Gooden weren't on it.
With those two players heading to Sacramento along with Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin, and Larry Hughes chilling back home, the Bulls had just nine players for Wednesday night's critical showdown against the Bucks.
And the Bulls took advantage, pulling to within 11/2 games of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 113-104 victory at the Bradley Center.
Kirk Hinrich woke up to his own trade rumors and finished with a season-high 31 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. His five three-pointers ran his career total to 669, pushing him past Scottie Pippen for second place behind Ben Gordon on the Bulls' all-time list.
"Kirk was the difference," coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Particularly on defense. Hinrich scored on a breakaway layup and three-pointer after back-to-back steals that broke the Bucks' momentum. They had pulled to within 89-86 after a technical foul on Del Negro.
"He made us look pretty silly on several occasions because he was playing so hard and we were so casual," Skiles said.
Hinrich said the team openly talked about playing with energy in the wake of a tumultuous day.
"I can't control rumors," he said. "Trying to make the playoffs always has been my thought."
Luol Deng added 21 points, including an exclamation-point-jumper with 2 minutes 11 seconds remaining that kept the Bulls' lead at 10. Derrick Rose added 18 points and nine assists with seven turnovers.
Del Negro wouldn't commit to naming new arrivals Brad Miller and John Salmons as starters. But he stressed he would make decisions on his rotation quickly.
"We need to get acclimated quickly because we don't have a lot of time," Del Negro said. "We know where we're at in terms of the standings."
Trade talk dominated the day.
•General manager John Paxson, in a team-issued release, offered his thoughts on Miller and Salmons.
"Brad is a skilled big man," Paxson said. "He's a good shooter and passer and has a natural feel for how to play. We feel he will be a good complement to Joakim (Noah), Tyrus (Thomas) and Aaron (Gray) on our front line.
"Salmons will bring tremendous versatility in the backcourt and at small forward. We feel he's one of the most improved players in the league."
•Skiles offered his thoughts on Nocioni leaving the Bulls. He coached the popular forward on three playoff teams.
"I'm sure whenever I'm done coaching, he'll be one of my favorites," Skiles said. "You always knew what you were going to get. He was going to bring it all the time as a great competitor."
•Salmons shared his thoughts in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.
"They traded for me, so I'm sure I'm in their plans," he said.
BULLS 113, BUCKS 104
Kirk Hinrich leads Bulls over Bucks, 113-104
Hinrich leads depleted Bulls over banged-up Bucks
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