A few weeks ago the Bulls and Miami played one of the most memorable regular-season games in NBA history.
Sunday’s rematch wouldn’t be the same, for several reasons. First of all, one of the traits that makes the Bulls a good match for the Heat is mobile big men like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to slide over quickly and help prevent LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from getting clear paths to the basket.
Noah and Gibson were out with injuries Sunday. Gibson was on the floor when the Bulls snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak March 27 at the United Center.
The other concern is the Bulls didn’t need an all-out assault to try to beat the Heat as much as they need to get healthy for the playoffs.
In front of the home fans and on national television, Miami sent the Power Trio onto the floor and predictably knocked off the short-handed Bulls 105-93 at American Airlines Arena.
This result could be spun as revenge for the Bulls ending Miami’s streak, but in reality it was just one of those late-season games that both teams wanted to get through without injuries.
The Bulls grabbed a 61-60 lead early in the third quarter, then faded late. For most of the day they were content to fire away from 3-point range, and they hit 11 of 26 from distance but shot just 35.4 percent from the field overall.
“We just have to keep moving forward and concentrate on improving,” coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game. “Hopefully we will get a couple of guys back soon. I don’t want us thinking about the playoffs. I want us thinking about the game against the Orlando Magic.”
The Bulls (43-37) move on to play in Orlando on Monday, then finish the season Wednesday at home against Washington.
The best they can hope for is to finish with wins over lottery-bound teams, then their playoff fate will be determined by Atlanta. If the Hawks lose one of their two remaining games (home vs. Toronto on Tuesday, at New York on Wednesday), the Bulls would finish fifth and take on Brooklyn in the first round, starting next weekend.
If Atlanta wins out, or if the Bulls stumble in their last two games, the Bulls will get the No. 6 seed and face Indiana in the first round.
Before the short flight to Orlando, Noah sent a Twitter message to Bulls fans that read, “A lot of basketball left Chi. Watch.”
That has been the feeling among the Bulls all year. Even without Derrick Rose, they have a chance to be competitive in the playoffs, but getting Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Gibson (left-knee sprain) back on the floor is of utmost importance. The Bulls also played Sunday without Richard Hamilton, who was suspended for a flagrant foul against Toronto.
Gibson told reporters he’d like to play before the playoffs start, to help him get back in rhythm. He plans to wear a knee brace when he does return.
Noah shot around before the last home game against Toronto, so the hope is he also will be ready for the playoffs. Some other key Bulls — Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli and Kirk Hinrich — are coming back from injuries and appear to be less than 100 percent.
Deng led the Bulls with 19 points Sunday, while Carlos Boozer finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds. No one on the Bulls shot well besides Daequan Cook (4-for-6, 10 points).
Miami attempted a season-high 41 free throws. James, who scored 24 points, gave the Bulls a compliment after the contest.
“You’re definitely not just going to show up and win against these guys,” he said. “You’re going to have to work for it. So for us to continue to get better and for us to have a really physical game — good game, testy game — we liked it.”
There were no flagrant fouls Sunday. Thibodeau and Chris Bosh were given technicals, while Boozer had a clear-path foul against Wade.
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