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Bulls can’t dig themselves out of early deficit

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler is fouled by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas as he sinks an off balance shot first quarter

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler is fouled by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas as he sinks an off balance shot in the first quarter of the Chicago Bulls vs. the Toronto Raptors NBA game Tuesday April 9, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 10, 2013 12:05AM

There are a lot of things the
injury-riddled Bulls aren’t capable of right now, and coming from
behind is one of them. So falling behind by 15 points in the first five minutes Tuesday wasn’t exactly a recipe for success.

Despite a career-high 28 points from Jimmy Butler and the return of Rip Hamilton after he missed 19 games with a bulging disc in his back, the Bulls are crawling more than walking toward the postseason. And after a 101-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the United Center, coach Tom Thibodeau called for his players to buckle down.

‘‘Hey, look, we’ve got to get right,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Fast . . . fast. Things will change quickly, and they have. We went from playing pretty good basketball to we’re struggling. We’ve got to get right.’’

At stake is holding on to the
No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, which would set up a first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, an undisciplined team the Bulls (42-35) have beaten three times in four tries this season. But any further stumbles might drop the Bulls behind the Atlanta Hawks and set up a first-round meeting against the Indiana Pacers, a team they have gone 1-3 against.

Still, the Bulls didn’t sound all that concerned.

‘‘No, not really,’’ Butler said when he was asked if there was growing worry because of back-to-back losses to the Detroit Pistons and the Raptors. ‘‘We feel like we know what we have to do. If we come in ready to play, there’s not too much more we have to worry about.’’

Hamilton’s only concern was the Bulls getting healthy. Even though he returned, the Bulls still were without center Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis in right foot), forward Luol Deng (sore hip), forward Taj Gibson (sprained medial collateral ligament in left knee) and guard Derrick Rose (rehab from surgery on left knee).

‘‘Any team that’s got a chance to win [the NBA title], first and foremost, you have to be healthy,’’
Hamilton said. ‘‘Then you’ve got to be playing great. For us, we have a lot of guys coming back, a lot of guys going down. It’s tough. We’ve just got to try and get healthy.’’

Even with all their problems, the Bulls still had a chance in the closing seconds. Trailing by three points, they got possession off a jump ball, but a pass to Nate Robinson went off his hands. By the time he chased it down, all he could manage was a desperation shot that missed.

‘‘You put yourself in a hole like that and you’re short-handed, you know you’re not going to be successful,’’ Thibodeau said.

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