The good news for the Miami Heat is that to advance from the play-in round, they only need to win one game in a row.
Because anything extended right now seems out of reach for Erik Spoelstra’s team.
Failing for the second time in 10 days to produce the team’s first three-game winning streak in a month, the Heat fell 113-99 to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Saturday night.
And in a season of bad losses in good places, this one was right up there.
Not only were the Heat coming off two days of rest, inactive since Wednesday night’s home win against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the Bulls were coming off a double-overtime home win a night earlier.
And yet, as of late, it was as if the Heat were the team without legs, ending the season series at 0-3 against the Bulls.
While a late rally pulled the Heat within three in the fourth, it was a classic case of a team running out of fuel.
Not the other who had played until his last breath the night before.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 24 points and seven rebounds, Bam Adebayo finished with 23 points and seven rebounds, and Tyler Herro had 15 points. But otherwise, there was little in reserve beyond Max Strus’ 20 points off the bench.
Five degrees of heat from Saturday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Bulls led 33-19 after the first quarter and 70-45 at halftime as the Heat went 5-of-20 on 3-pointers, with the Bulls 9-of-17 from beyond the arc.
The Heat then went down by 27, put together a 15-0 run in the third quarter to move within 12 and led 90-77 going into the fourth.
From there, the Heat pulled within 93-90 with 8:43 left on a Herro 3-pointer, only to see a barrage of Bulls 3-pointers put it away.
2. The heaviest lift: Butler did his part again, maintaining his competitiveness even when everything around him was going south.
Not only did Butler have 24 points entering the fourth, but he was 8 of 11 in that stretch, the rest of his teammates 19 of 51. He was also 8 of 11 from the line in three periods.
Butler’s final layup ended with 7:04 remaining and the Heat up 98-92.
But then the Bulls got 3-pointers from Coby White and DeMar DeRozan to take a 104-94 lead.
3. Waiting Game: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra declined to say why Kyle Lowry was held Saturday instead of the second night of Sunday’s back-to-back set in Detroit.
Lowry has played three games since missing 15 straight with knee soreness.
“Because that was part of the plan,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what we planned during the week and we’re sticking to our plan.
“We’ll see where we go from here. But that’s the plan for this week. We’re formulating the plan for next week and we’ll see where we go from there.”
4. Strus takes a step forward: Back in his hometown, Strus provided a bench boost when he was otherwise short on support for the Heat’s starters.
The DePaul product’s night included a four-point play with 10:14 to play that pulled the Heat within six.
Speaking of the bench, with Lowry cleared, Victor Oladipo is back in the Heat mix after being held out Wednesday against the Grizzlies for the first time by coaching decision this season.
Oladipo entered for the first time with 3:43 left in the opening period at point guard, a position he appears to be largely misplaced.
5. In all these years: When it comes to chips on his shoulders, Bulls guard Patrick Beverley has enough to stock a casino. He never forgets.
That includes when, before the Big Three run began in 2010, the Heat signed Jerry Stackhouse and kept Eddie House, making Beverley the final cut before the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh era.
Beverley has talked about it often since then, fueled even more when the Heat bypassed him in the buyout market last month.
So there he was Saturday night, not only draining four 3-pointers in the first half, but at one point taunting his undersized Heat lineup with a two-time gesture after driving for a basket.
Beverley’s aggressiveness eventually got the best of him, forcing him to the bench with his fifth foul with 7:14 to play in the third period.