MIAMI – Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose are injured. Richard Hamilton was suspended. Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli are on minutes limits.
And Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Nazr Mohammed incurred early foul trouble.
The Bulls lost to the Heat 105-93 Sunday at American Airlines, and are lurching toward the playoffs with about as much momentum as a used Yugo. Their fourth loss in five games dropped them one game behind the Hawks for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining.
"We've kind of been inconsistent in both [offense and defense] as of late, and we just have to gear up," Hinrich said. "Once the season ends, the playoffs are here. It's not like we get another training camp. We need to play two solid-effort games on both sides of the floor, unselfish on offense, sharp on defense."
About the only thing sharp about this one was the officials' whistle-blowing skills. A total of 57 fouls were called, leading to 72 free throws, 41 of which were shot by the Heat. In the first quarter alone, the Heat attempted as many free throws (15) as field goals.
Given that LeBron James, who scored 20 of his game-high 24 points without missing a shot, complained about physical play from Hinrich and Taj Gibson following the last meeting between these teams, the tone seemed to be set early.
"They got a lot of calls that went their way," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That was to be expected. It was still a winnable game down the stretch. We had a couple tough plays where we had poor body position. I thought the foul trouble hurt us. Jimmy getting early fouls hurt.
"Hey, look, sometimes the calls go your way. Sometimes they don't. That's part of the game. It can't affect the way you play. You have to play the same way. The early fouls on some guys took away some of the aggressiveness. We can't do that. We have to keep playing hard. For us, it's about the intensity."
The Bulls battled back from 15 points down early to trail by two at halftime. But they never pulled closer than seven points in the fourth, when they missed 16 of 20 shots.