INDIANAPOLIS — No longer does Joakim Noah want to dwell on who isn’t in uniform from night to night. Asked after the Bulls’ 98-84 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday about playing short-handed, the two-time All-Star center said, ‘‘Nah, we know that if we want to do something special, we’re going to have to . . .’’
He changed thoughts in mid-sentence.
‘‘I’m not worried about that,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not worried about that at all.’’
Noah has a good reason for putting it in the back of his mind. Two reasons, actually: wins over the Washington Wizards and Oklahoma City Thunder while Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have been sidelined with injuries. Against the red-hot Pacers, it looked like reason No. 3 was coming, especially when the Bulls entered the fourth quarter tied with a team that had won nine of its last 11 games.
But they were running on fumes. The Bulls (39-24) shot just 4-for-17 in the final 12 minutes and allowed the Pacers (27-34) to go 10-for-20 from the field while outrebounding the Bulls 17-8.
‘‘I thought we got off to a slow start, battled back, and I thought the rebounding was good [early on],’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘That was a big part of that. That was the biggest concern going into the game, was their bench and the rebounding component. Down the stretch, the fourth quarter, giving up second shots, free throws, rebounds, we just got flat. So we’ve got to figure that out.’’
They’ll have their chance Sunday in San Antonio, where the Bulls will again be underdogs.
But don’t tell that to Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
‘‘One of the best next-man-up teams in sports, in all of sports,’’ Vogel said of the Bulls. ‘‘The way they adapt to guys out of the lineup and still find ways to win games and have other guys step up, it’s very impressive. It is what’s expected with Chicago. It’s what they’ve come to be known for the last couple years, with all the injuries that they’ve had — just not letting that slow them down and still going out and winning games.’’
Vogel made sure his team understood the threat, evident in their outscoring the Bulls 32-18 in the fourth quarter.
‘‘Highs and lows . . . highs and lows,’’ Noah said of the last week. ‘‘I think we made a lot of mental mistakes, and you can’t do that. They’re a very good team, very well-coached. They played a physical game. You can tell they’re playing good basketball right now.’’
Noah finished with just four points but had a team-high 11 assists. That wasn’t the only impressive number of the night. Rookie Doug McDermott finally had his breakout game, scoring a season-high 16 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
For the 11th pick overall last year, it felt like an about-time moment.
‘‘I was out a long time [after right knee surgery in December] and then not playing a lot,’’ McDermott said. ‘‘I was kind of thrown into the mix the last couple games. I wasn’t quite comfortable. [Friday], I took a deep breath and played basketball.’’
He’ll have to keep it up, especially with Gibson and Rose not even making the trip.