NEW YORK — The Bulls’ playoffs-or-bust tour hit another speed bump Saturday, and things just got very interesting with two regular-season games left.
Thanks to the defense relinquishing a nine-point lead with 4:24 left, the Bulls lost to the Brooklyn Nets 107-106 to slip from No. 7 to No. 8 in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
And the bad news didn’t stop there. The Miami Heat held off the Washington Wizards to move into a tie with the 39-41 Bulls.
So what does it all mean?
Things couldn’t be any tighter, with the Bulls hosting the Orlando Magic on Monday and the Nets on Wednesday. They own the tiebreaker against the Heat, so they’ll make the playoffs if they win out.
‘‘We’re still in this thing,’’ Bulls star Jimmy Butler said. ‘‘[The Nets are] a good team. They’ve been playing as well as anybody, to tell you the truth. They’ve got guys that play incredibly hard. We lost. Nothing you can really do about it right now. Go get better, man.
‘‘We’ve been saying how we needed this one today, and we’re going to say how we need these next two. But we do; we’ve got to have them. And so we’ve got to go out and play like that.’’
Whenever it seems the Bulls have solved their issues, a game such as Saturday happens.
‘‘The mentality is we have two must-win games where we have to have great focus and energy,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘Obviously, the New York game [Tuesday against the Knicks] was a disappointment. But we had five wins in six games against some really good teams in that stretch. We can’t let this deflate us.’’
Not only had the Bulls been playing better, but they had veteran Dwyane Wade back from his fractured right elbow. Wade was scheduled to play 20 minutes, but he played nearly 25 and scored 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
Afterward, he said he was pain-free.
‘‘Haven’t played with my teammates in a while,’’ Wade said. ‘‘Second half, I came out more aggressive. From that standpoint, I’m glad to get out here. My goal was to get back for the playoffs, but I’m glad to get out here now, get back to playing with these guys so they can get comfortable with me.’’
Butler scored 33 points and again tried to will the Bulls across the finish line.
After the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie drew a foul on Wade and made both free throws with 13.6 seconds left, the Bulls trailed by two. That left it up to Butler to try to play the hero again. But his three-pointer went long, and Dinwiddie made two more free throws with 2.4 seconds left to ice the game.
Now the Bulls’ season comes down to facing two teams with losing records.
‘‘I don’t believe I need to say anything,’’ Butler said. ‘‘I think everybody knows where we stand. Everybody is a grown man in here, and I feel like they know that we must win these games if we want to find ourselves in the postseason.
‘‘Ain’t too much to say. We’re in this together.’’
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