CHICAGO (AP) -Luol Deng did his best to shake it off. So did Kirk Hinrich.
There was little else the Chicago Bulls could do about that hangover Thursday.
Their goals of finishing the regular season with 50 wins and the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs came crashing down in a headache-inducing 106-97 loss at New Jersey the previous night. They landed the fifth seed and a first-round rematch with defending champion Miami.
``We can't do anything about it now,'' Deng said. ``They played better, they got the win. We just can't hold onto it. That's just the regular season.''
The Bulls (49-33) were in control of the second seed in the Eastern Conference until they lost at New Jersey in what was probably their biggest regular-season game since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era. They fell behind by 15 early on and watched New Jersey go on a 15-4 run after pulling to within 79-77.
``It was a big game and we didn't play well,'' Hinrich said. ``Hopefully, we can bounce back.''
Coach Scott Skiles said he had a ``long night, personally'' and was ready to move on.
``It's nothing we can dwell on,'' he said. ``We've been playing real well. We can't get caught up in that right now. If we do, that would be an even bigger mistake. We certainly didn't put our best foot forward; the guys all know it.''
A win would have given the Bulls a first-round matchup with New Jersey and home-court advantage in the second round if they advanced.
Instead, the second seed went to Cleveland, which got injury-riddled Washington in the first round and would have home-court advantage in the second against the Toronto-New Jersey winner.
The Bulls?
Although they have home-court advantage over Miami (44-38), this was the scenario they hoped to avoid. If they get by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, they could face top-seeded Detroit - which plays Orlando - in the second round.
``We know how good they are,'' Skiles said. ``And we respect that. We also feel like we're a pretty good club. If I make us seem like too much of an underdog I'm cracking on my guys. If we come out and play well and do what we're supposed to do, we'll have a chance to win the series.''
After two straight first-round exits, the Bulls thought they shed that underdog label when they signed four-time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace away from Detroit in the offseason. With a young, improving nucleus, they believed they had enough to contend in the Eastern Conference, and they did, finishing with their best record since the 1997-98 won 62 games and a championship.
Ben Gordon led the team with a career-high 21.4 points per game, and Deng had a breakout season, averaging 18.8 points and shooting 51.7 percent.
A year ago, the Bulls gave the Heat all they could handle before losing in six games.
The Bulls were leading in the third quarter of Game 5 before Miami rallied to win the game and, ultimately, capture a series Chicago thought it could have won.
``We should've won last year's series, honestly,'' Hinrich told the Chicago Tribune this week. ``We felt we should've won Game 5. So we're confident.''
To which the Heat's Alonzo Mourning responded, ``Be careful what you wish for.''
And Wade said, ``Chicago feels that they can beat us. Kirk Hinrich came out and said it. We'll find out.''
Hinrich didn't understand the fuss.
``If we go to Game 5 and we get a win, it's a different series,'' Hinrich said. ``I'm not saying we gave them the game or anything. They earned the game. It was 2-2 going into Game 5. We feel like we missed an opportunity. Obviously, they played well and they got the job done so you can't take anything away from them. I said we're a confident team and we're just going to try to play the best we can because they're really good. They're the world champs.''

Top NBA Public Bets

NBA Top Stories

Thumbnail Celtics improving Finals odds The Boston Celtics are showing signs that they want to be in the hunt to win the NBA Finals next season. Do oddsmakers feel the Celtics are...
Thumbnail Warriors re-sign Curry, Iguodala The Golden State Warriors are committed to keeping their championship team together. The team re-signed a number of players last week to improve their odds to...
Thumbnail Paul George joins the Thunder The Oklahoma City Thunderwon the Paul Georgesweepstakes last week. How has this impacted the team’s ability to win the NBA...
Thumbnail Rockets improve Finals odds After making a big splash this week, are the Houston Rockets making a push to win the 2018 NBA Finals?
Thumbnail Updated NBA Finals Odds After a busy week with the NBA Draft taking place, which team improved their odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals?

NBA Team Pages