Nate Robinson wants to stay with the Bulls, but he has said he’s tired of being a one-year-deal player, and his stock has never been higher. | Lynne Sladky~AP
Updated: April 14, 2013 10:40PM
MIAMI — There wasn’t a specific play or whistle that proved to coach Tom Thibodeau that the referees were calling the Bulls’ game Sunday against the Miami Heat tightly. The teams combined to take 72 free throws, and Thibodeau said that told the story in the Bulls’
Asked if he thought the tightly officiated game was the result of the physical game the teams played last month at the United Center, Thibodeau said: “I guess. . . . Seventy-two free throws.’’
Near the top of the list for free-throw attempts was Heat star Le-
Bron James, who took 12. Teammate Dwyane Wade took 14, but it wasn’t Wade who complained about the Bulls’ physical style the last time the teams played. James made national headlines by talking about ‘‘non-basketball fouls’’ committed by Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson in a game that saw the Bulls end the Heat’s 27-game winning streak.
‘‘If he has that much power, more power to him,’’ Bulls guard Nate Robinson said when asked if he thought James’ comments set the tone for Sunday.
What it did was take the Bulls’ aggressive defense down a notch, especially when Jimmy Butler and Hinrich got into early foul trouble.
‘‘I don’t want our guys to worry about that stuff,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We have to play our game, play defense, concentrate on body position. Hey, look, sometimes the calls go your way, sometimes they don’t. That’s part of the game. It can’t
affect the way you play; you have to play the same way. The early fouls on some guys took away some of the aggressiveness. We can’t do that. We have to keep playing hard. For us, it’s about the intensity.’’
But it also was about handcuffing a Bulls team that was already short-handed and has to rely on defense and physical play to carry the day.
‘‘For us, we’re an aggressive
defensive team,’’ said Robinson, who scored 14 points off the bench. ‘‘We do a lot of things. We trap. We hedge. We couldn’t be ourselves [Sunday]. At the same time, you’ve got to adjust. We tried, and they were just on top of it, I guess.’’
The Heat shot 41 free throws and the Bulls 31. Throw in a clear-path foul on the Bulls and a technical on Thibodeau, and no wonder the Bulls were feeling like there wasn’t much on their side.
‘‘We kind of expected it would be a pretty tight whistle early,’’ Hinrich said. ‘‘You just have to play. We just didn’t play well enough defensively. We’re still searching to get back to what we do best.’’
With two games left in the regular season, the Bulls (43-37) are a game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That means they’re in a position to face the Indiana Pacers, who were 3-1 against the Bulls this season, rather than the Brooklyn Nets, who were 1-3 against them.
‘‘No preference,’’ Hinrich said when asked if he rather would see the Nets or Pacers in the first round. ‘‘The preference is just to play well these last two games, win the games and grab whatever little momentum there is and take it into the playoffs. And get as healthy as we can be.’’