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Bulls overcome lethargic start in Miami but still fall short

The Bulls sputtered through the first three quarters and played with urgency late. But it wasn’t good enough, and their deficit for the last play-in spot grew.

No team in the Eastern Conference has done fourth-quarter desperation better than the Bulls in the last week.

The problem remains the preceding three quarters of frustration.

That was the case again Saturday in Miami. The Bulls spent most of the first 36 minutes looking up at a seemingly insurmountable 20-point deficit only to run the Heat down before falling short in a 106-101 loss.

The deficit for the last play-in spot held by the Wizards is now 1½ games.

“There’s no need to panic,’’ forward Denzel Valentine said. “We have the type of team that can compete with anyone in the NBA. It’s just up to us if we want to come out and play hard, do the things to finish off the season strong.

“I personally think that we can finish off the season strong.’’

It looked like panic time early on, however, as Heat shooting guard Duncan Robinson went 4-for-4 from three-point range. He finished the first half with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from long range, and the Heat were up by 20.

But, as has often been the case, there was late-game fight from the Bulls.

As bad as the Bulls were through the first three quarters, their defensive handcuffs came out to start the fourth, and they went on an 18-5 run.

By the time Valentine made a 26-foot three pointer, the Heat’s lead was down to three.

Miami had answers, however, led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and in a matter of minutes, its lead was back up to eight.

Valentine made another clutch three, but Butler made a three-footer, got a steal, then scored again with 3:33 left for his ninth point in the quarter.

Miami, however, went cold, opening the door for a Bulls comeback. They were down five with 52.4 seconds left, but Valentine inexplicably launched a three-pointer from 30-plus feet with no rebounders near the paint for a possible rebound. He then dug the hole deeper, fouling Robinson after a layup.

“I was upset because I called timeout before the shot ever went up, and I wasn’t granted the timeout,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “They said he was in the act of shooting, and when I yelled timeout, he wasn’t in the act of shooting. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to [Valentine’s shot]. Just because of the way the floor was balanced coming down in transition, I just didn’t like the way we were set up.

“It was probably not a great shot.’’

Valentine wasn’t even going to dispute that.

“It was a bad shot,’’ Valentine said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t have taken it. I would have come down and got something we wanted, but I kind of got lost in the game, kind of wanted to hit the shot.’’

Coby White, who finished with 31 points, cut the lead to four with 30.3 seconds left, giving the Bulls a puncher’s chance. Miami was hit with an eight-second violation, giving the Bulls the ball back with 22.3 seconds left.

White went back to work, dunking the ball with 15.8 seconds left. Kendrick Nunn was fouled and made both free throws to put the Bulls (25-35) back in a tough spot.

When Garrett Temple missed a three-pointer, the Bulls’ hopes were dashed.