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Short-handed Bulls hang around but fall to Nets

Brooklyn Nets guard DerWilliams (8) drives toward basket with Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibs(22) defending first half an NBA basketball

Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8) drives toward the basket with Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) defending in the first half of an NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New York. Williams was injured toward the end of the first half. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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Updated: March 3, 2013 6:18AM

NEW YORK — Every day they move closer to Derrick Rose’s return is a good one for the Bulls. But Friday might have been an exception.

With Carlos Boozer still recovering from a sore hamstring, the Bulls lost two more starters to injury before facing the Brooklyn Nets. Joakim Noah has a foot injury. Kirk Hinrich returned to Chicago to have a recurring elbow injury examined.

Without three starters, the Bulls predictably gave a game effort against the resurgent Nets but ultimately were doomed by a slow start and a poor finish in a 93-89 loss at Barclays Center.

They didn’t quit. Taj Gibson played 48 minutes. Luol Deng played all but four seconds. Nate Robinson played 41 minutes. And Jimmy Butler played 40 minutes off the bench. But that doesn’t mean much to coach Tom Thibodeau when they don’t win.

‘‘You can choose any excuse you want — guys are out. Guys are tried. Whatever,’’ Thibodeau said after the Bulls dropped to 28-18. ‘‘It’s the NBA. You have to find a way to get it done, whatever the circumstances are.’’

Though excuses are for losers, injuries are for real. Thibodeau has ‘‘no idea’’ when any of the injured players will be back.

The injury to Noah could be most problematic. Noah injured his right foot — not the left one that had given him problems previously. And he had no idea when he’d be back.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ Noah said when asked if Bulls fans should be concerned about his injury. ‘‘I want to be out there as soon as I can. I have to take care of this. It’s been bothering me for a couple of games and I need to get this thing right.’’

Thibodeau did his best to piece together a lineup. Nazr Mohammed started for Noah but played only eight minutes and scored four points. Thibodeau leaned on Deng (18 points), Marco Belinelli (18 points), Gibson (16 points, nine rebounds), Butler (12 points) and Robinson (12 points on 4-for-16 shooting, 11 assists) and nearly got the job done.

After falling behind 24-14 in the first quarter, the Bulls recovered to lead 42-41 at halftime and 67-63 after three quarters. But they faded early in the fourth, as the Nets outscored them 18-7 to take an 81-74 lead.

They got within 86-84 with 1:24 left and after Butler tipped an inbounds pass to Deng for a basket, they trailed 91-89 with 15.9 seconds left. It wasn’t over until former Bull C.J. Watson hit two free throws and Deng missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession.

But that was no consolation.

‘‘We felt like we let the game slide away from us,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We had a lot of minor letdowns on defense, including myself. It was just a tough time in the fourth.’’

Thibodeau has conditioned his team to not make excuses for injuries. And true to form, they did not. They’re used to it by now.

‘‘We just have to keep playing,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘We’re all professionals. The bench guys that are starting, we have to be ready and build on what we picked up. Play hard and have fun and look out for each other I think we’ll be OK.’’

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