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Bulls fall to Nets, now on brink of elimination

Zach LaVine scored 41 points but had very little help. Now the Bulls need a miracle to reach the play-in tournament.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine shoots past Nets forward Bruce Brown during the first half of Tuesday’s game.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine shoots past Nets forward Bruce Brown during the first half of Tuesday’s game.
Matt Marton/AP

It’s easy to point to the 115-107 loss Tuesday to the Nets as the reason the Bulls are on the brink of elimination from the playoff picture.

But the Bulls’ ship had been taking on water for the last month.

If the Bulls really want to play the blame game, look no further than a season of missed opportunities, an inconsistent sense of urgency and far too many lost possessions and quarters in which details were disregarded.

So while the 69th game of the season might have put the Bulls on life support, the spiral long has been a work in progress.

Guard Zach LaVine was realistic enough to know that.

‘‘We’re the ones that put ourselves in this predicament,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘We understand that. We just have to control what we can. If we go out there and worry about [the teams in front] and don’t take care of our job, then this is all for naught.’’

The job Tuesday was to take care of the Nets. And while LaVine was stellar in scoring 41 points, the Bulls’ late surge came up short.

For a team that needed some help entering the game, the Bulls (29-40) now need a miracle.

With the Pacers beating the 76ers, that left the Bulls only one path to earn the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. They must win out against the Raptors, Nets and Bucks and have the Wizards lose out against the Hawks, Cavaliers and Hornets.

The Cavs seemingly packed up for the summer weeks ago, and the Hornets might be looking to rest some of their players in the finale.

The odds don’t look good.

‘‘I do think it’s extremely important and a great learning opportunity to be able to block things out,’’ coach Billy Donovan said, referring to the last week of the regular season. ‘‘We have no control over what those other teams are going to do, how their schedule is going to play out, who is going to play, who is going to sit out. We just don’t control that, and to waste any time or energy on something we can’t control is a waste of time.

‘‘Whatever any organization is going to do, that’s kind of under their roof, inside their house. I really don’t have an opinion or a thought on it. It’s about what we’re doing and what we need to focus on.’’

Unfortunately for Donovan, the only player who looked focused against the Nets was LaVine.

Just four games out of the NBA’s health-and-safety protocol, LaVine tried to rally the Bulls, who cut a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter to six with 1:39 left. But the Nets had an answer, with a double-teamed Kevin Durant finding teammate Jeff Green open in front of the rim.

Durant scored ‘‘only’’ 21 points, but he added eight assists and three blocks.

Even worse for the Bulls was that Nets guard Kyrie Irving took an elbow to the face from center Nikola Vucevic in the third quarter and didn’t return. The game was there for the taking, and the Bulls just couldn’t grab it.

Now they are left to watch. The Wizards visit the Hawks on Wednesday in Atlanta and can eliminate the Bulls with a victory.

‘‘It’s obviously not a position we wanted to be in,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘It is what it is, and we can only control what we can.’’