BROOKLYN—The Chicago Bulls' biggest enemy isn't the schedule, the Milwaukee Bucks or Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat.
It's what they see when they look in the mirror.
With a chance to put themselves in a spot to clinch a playoff spot against a Brooklyn Nets team with nothing to play for, they came up short as they've done so many times this season when opportunity was at their fingertips.
When Jimmy Butler's corner jumper came up long with five seconds left, it not only prevented them from getting back to the precious .500 mark, it also put them in a perilous spot of losing control of a playoff spot, falling 107-106 to the talent-deficient but game Nets squad in Dwyane Wade's return from an elbow injury.
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie was cut in Bulls' training camp came back to bite his former team, scoring the final seven points of the game to put the Bulls away in the Nets' final home game of the season.
"Is it deflating? No, because we're still in it man," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 33 points, including going five for five from the 3-point line. "All we gotta do is win, and we're right there. But we've got to figure out a way to pull these games out in the end, get stops in the end, score some baskets in the end. We should be OK.''
Dinwiddie scored 19 points in 27 minutes off the bench, taking advantage of an opportunity he wasn't given in Chicago. Hitting a triple to tie the game was a result of yet another defensive breakdown where the Bulls didn't rotate and didn't seem to communicate, a seasonlong issue.
"You can't have that breakdown," Hoiberg said. "We had one switch and didn't run him off the line."
Wade fouled Dinwiddie the next time down on what appeared to be more miscommunication on a pick and roll, resulting in two free throws with 13 seconds left.
"One thing we were doing with Brook (Lopez) in the post, he would dribble and we would double and rotate," said Wade, who scored 14 points with seven rebounds but had five turnovers in 25 minutes. "We didn't rotate quick enough, Spence hit a 3. The other pick and roll, he kind of got an open lane to the basket, I don't think I fouled him."
Nevertheless, it put the Bulls in another weird spot—a spot they seem to be mighty comfortable at through 80 games.
Whether it's a loss to the Knicks or the 76ers at home, they can point to a bevy of games, recent and long ago, as to why they're battling to hold onto a playoff spot that isn't yet guaranteed.
What's more telling, they squandered a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and the Nets pounced.
"They're a good team," Butler said. "They've been playing as well as anybody to tell you the truth. They've got guys that play incredibly hard."
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson kept attacking the Bulls, scoring the bulk of his 19 points and 12 rebounds in that final stretch that saw the Bulls curl under pressure they created.
Caris LeVert, a rookie who shoots 32 percent from 3-point land on the year, got hot late, hitting four of seven from long range and scored 19.
The Bulls played the percentages and got burned as the Nets shot just 32 percent from three but made big ones.
"We had a couple key turnovers in that stretch that got them out in transition," Hoiberg said. "Turnovers were obviously an issue for us all game long. We had a 2-on-1 break and couldn't take advantage of it."
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The third quarter saw the best of the Bulls as they scored 37 points on 68 percent shooting, fueled by the one player whose internal alarm clock knew it was a mid-afternoon game in Butler.
If not for a puzzling midseason stretch where Butler looked mentally and physically fatigued, he could do some serious campaigning to be on the bottom half of the MVP ballot.
He'll have to settle for dragging this inconsistent bunch to the postseason, if the Bulls can take care of business at home for the last two regular season games.
The effect of missing Rajon Rondo can't be overstated, considering they looked lost with disjointed without a true point guard on the floor. Jerian Grant got into the lane a couple times for scores before heating up in the third quarter, while Michael Carter-Williams just had a miserable night off the bench.
Still, neither was the playmaker that Rondo is, and one player who depends on Rondo felt the aftershocks in Nikola Mirotic.
Mirotic missed all of his six shots and didn't score until hitting a free throw in the first minute of the third, being replaced by Bobby Portis and watching the Bulls immediately go on a run when he sat.
Still, Mirotic was on the floor late and the Bulls again came up short in a game they had no business sweating in.
Now, they must sweat out the final five days of the regular season, and only have themselves to blame for the perspiration.
"Mentality is we have two must-win games where we have to have great focus and energy," Hoiberg said. "The mentality is we have to win both."
And with their recent history as a guide, they can't be counted on to beat sub-.500 teams, at home or abroad.