Desperate times call for desperate measures, which is why a fourth-quarter Bulls lineup consisted of Jannero Pargo, Ben Gordon, Adrian Griffin, Eric Piatkowski and Andres Nocioni.
Too bad this wasn't a home game so that public-address announcer Steve Scott could try to keep a straight face by introducing Nocioni as, um, the "man in the middle."
Down two starters, a key reserve and with an ineffective Kirk Hinrich playing only 16 minutes, the undermanned Bulls succumbed to Shaq-less Miami 104-86 Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
The game's ending was marred when Nocioni committed a hard foul on Miami star Dwyane Wade and then was shoved past photographers and into the first row of spectators along the baseline by Udonis Haslem.
A spectator tossed a drink at Nocioni, bringing to mind the incident that triggered mayhem and Ron Artest going into the stands at The Palace of Auburn Hills last November. The fan was ejected by security.
Nocioni received a flagrant-one foulthe less severe typeand a technical. Haslem received a technical and ejection.
Bulls security escorted Nocioni to the locker room even though he wasn't ejected and 2 minutes 52 seconds remained. Miami led 95-82.
"It was just a foul," Nocioni said. "I don't know why Haslem pushed me. It was a stupid foul [on my part] because the game is over. It's my fault. No problem."
Miami had a problem.
"I thought that Nocioni's foul was ridiculous," Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It was an absolutely punk play. If you're going to be a tough guy then, you know what, flagrant foul Alonzo Mourning and let's see how tough you are.
"You're a forward and you're going to come out and take on a guard just because you can't guard him. I think when you have role players like that taking free shots at the best players in this league, it should be cracked down on very, very, very hard. It's ridiculous."
Miami played without Shaquille O'Neal, who stayed home with a stomach virus. But as long as the Heat had Wade, who scored his career-high-tying 39 points almost at will, it had more than enough to cruise to its 18th straight home victory while wrapping up home court in the Eastern Conference throughout the playoffs.
"[Wade] and [Phoenix's Steve] Nash stand out this year as the two best guards in the league," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We were unaware to his penetration. That's the second game in a row that we've lacked awareness defensively."
Nocioni and Ben Gordon each scored 14 points to lead the Bulls, who had their league-high nine-game win streak snapped. They remained tied with Washington, which lost to Boston, in the race for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Given that the Bulls had a season-low eight assists and played without Luol Deng, Eddy Curry and Othella Harrington, it's surprising they pulled to within 83-72 on a Piatkowski three-pointer early in the fourth quarter.
But then came a basket by Wade, questionable shots on back-to-back possessions by Jared Reiner and Tyson Chandler, another basket by Wade and an Eddie Jones three.
"This wasn't a good game for us," Chandler said.
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