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Pistons-Bulls Preview

AP - Sports

Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls are playing some of their best basketball of the season with the playoffs just over a week away.

A visit from the Detroit Pistons isn't likely to slow them down.

The Bulls continue their pursuit of the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed when they face the Pistons, who hope to avoid a 15th loss in 16 games at the United Center on Friday night.

Chicago (46-32) has won a season-high six straight after putting together a big second half in Wednesday's 102-87 win at Minnesota. Noah had his NBA best-tying fourth triple-double of the season for the Bulls, who outscored the Timberwolves 27-17 in each of the last two quarters to stay tied with Toronto for third in the East.

"It feels good to play well," Noah told the team's official website after recording 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. "But the important thing is winning. We've got four games left; just trying to stay focused and keep our mind on progress.

"We're focused and excited for the playoffs. ... We're playing comfortable basketball now."

Noah's team-leading 398 assists are the most by a Bulls center in a single season. He's averaging 7.0 over a 30-game stretch since Feb. 6, 10th-best in the league and nearly double anyone at his position.

"The best thing about him is the winning part of it," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "There's a lot of guys who score more than he does; the rebounding is obviously terrific, but the passing also tells you how he sees the game. He's always going to hit the open man if you move without the ball and you are open.

"He doesn't care about his own statistics, he only cares about winning. When your best players are like that it sets a great tone for the team."

The All-Star is among the league's top seven in double-doubles (43) and rebounds per game (11.2) while averaging a team-best 1.5 blocks.

"He's extremely tough," Timberwolves star Kevin Love said. "In my opinion, he's the defensive player of the year. They are a good team. Thibodeau has them working hard on both ends of the floor."

Noah's previous triple-double came in a 105-94 win at Detroit on March 5, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson also came up big with a combined 48 points off the bench as Chicago earned its 20th win in 22 games in the series.

The Bulls had surrendered an average of 85.5 points during a 14-game home winning streak against the Pistons before falling 92-75 on Dec. 7. However, Chicago was missing injured starting guard Jimmy Butler and that was before the signing of Augustin, who is averaging 20.0 points during the win streak.

Plus, this Detroit team has dropped 17 of 19 on the road and hasn't defeated an opponent with a winning record since the All-Star break.

The Pistons (29-50) beat Boston on Saturday and Atlanta on Tuesday for their first set of back-to-back wins in nearly two months, but their woes resumed in Wednesday's 122-100 loss at Cleveland.

Detroit was held to 35.4 percent shooting while the Cavaliers shot 57.0 percent.

"Today was tough," rookie Peyton Siva said. "You see how the NBA is. One night you can feel on top of the world; next night you can feel at the bottom. You've just got to continue to play hard and continue to roll."

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