After Bulls’ play-in loss, DeRozan can’t help but hear the clock ticking

The Bulls seemed to get a break when Miami star Jimmy Butler was sidelined by a knee injury.

But in Friday's final play-in game, the Heat played with a sense of urgency like the last thing they wanted to do was face Butler in the locker room if they'd lost this one.

Miami took control with a 19-0 run midway through the first quarter and won going away 112-91. The Bulls shot just 38% from the field and matched their season low for points scored.

Losing was clearly the best move for the future for the Bulls. They most likely would have been swept by the Celtics, and with the loss, their first-round draft pick will stay at No. 11. It would have slid to No. 15 had the Bulls made the playoffs.

With another season over, what's next for the Bulls? DeMar DeRozan, who led the way with 22 points, will be a free agent this summer and has plenty to think about.

“It's just going to be a long summer for me,” DeRozan said after the game. “It's kind of like crawling up that hill, you get knocked back down, take that look up the mountain and you say, 'Dang I've got to do it all over again, I've got to figure it out?' It's just going to be a long summer for me, thinking about a lot.”

DeRozan has stated plenty of times he enjoys playing in Chicago and is interested in returning to the Bulls. The team seems open to that plan, but at 34, he knows his time is limited.

“At the end of the day, I hate losing,” DeRozan said. “I hate missing opportunities. It really hits you when you look up, the last seconds run off. You don't have another game and next time I play, it will be my 16th season. You realize the window will close for you personally.

“My stance on wanting to be here is still the same, but just want to win. More than anything, have the opportunity to win.”

The Bulls were undermanned and undersized for most of the season. When they could maximize their energy and hit a few outside shots, they'd win some big games. This was not one of those nights.

Even without Butler, Miami's defense did a number on the Bulls. At the start the Heat clogged the lane and seemed content to let the Bulls fire away from long range. The Bulls took 8 of their first 9 shots from 3-point range. They hit a few but ultimately went 5 for 24 in the first half.

Coby White (13 points) and Ayo Dosunmu (10 points) tried hard to push the pace and attack the defense before it had a chance to get set. But the Heat was just as good in transition as it was in the half-court and usually forced bad shots. Dosunmu went 3 for 15 from the field, while White was 5 of 16.

This game was a demonstration of what lies ahead for the Bulls. The season was a net positive because of the massive improvement from White and Dosunmu, but both players still have room to grow.

One important lesson is being ready for whatever opposing defenses throw at them. The better a player gets, the more attention defenses give. Good NBA players need a counter for everything.

Also on the summer agenda, the Bulls need the same sort of improvement from Patrick Williams, Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips heading into next season.

DeRozan expressed frustration at the Bulls' long series of injuries. They were without Williams, Phillips and Zach LaVine at the end of the season, while Lonzo Ball has missed 2½ years now with knee issues.

“I don't know if a black cat ran in front of us or we broke a mirror or whatever,” DeRozan said. “Since I've been here, we've dealt with a lot. My first year, that was the team you planned on being with. Then we lose a star point guard in 'Zo. We had all the pieces in play.”

Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan (11) and Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro congratulate each other after the Heat beat the Bulls 112-91 in an NBA basketball play-in tournament game, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) AP

Another positive to this season is the Bulls made a nice recovery after a miserable 5-14 start. They made a surge after LaVine left the lineup and nearly got back to .500.

“What could have been a very difficult, challenging, disastrous season, those guys turned into an opportunity to get into the playoffs, one game away,” coach Billy Donovan said. “From my standpoint, being with these guys every single day, I really appreciated what they did for each other and this organization.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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