Another inexplicable performance was over, and Deron Williams could only lament the Nets' latest belly flop, one that might cost them dearly.
The comfort of knowing they controlled their own destiny evaporated Monday night in a numbing 113-86 loss to the undermanned Bulls at Barclays Center, capping a disturbing back-to-back stretch in which they came up microscopically small in what they deemed must-win scenarios.
Instead, the Nets dropped a half-game behind the Pacers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, meaning they will be scoreboard- watching Tuesday night when Indiana hosts the Wizards. The Nets will host the Magic and the Pacers will play in Memphis Wednesday night to end the regular season.
"All we can do is just take care of that one game,'' Williams said. "It's our fault we put ourselves in this position. A week ago, it was looking really good for us and everybody was happy. And now this is kind of the opposite. But we've just got to be positive, as positive as we can in this situation, and just get the one on Wednesday.''
The Nets (37-44) hold the tiebreaker over Indiana (37-43), so if they finish with the same record, the Nets will be in the playoffs for the third straight season. But given their erratic nature and their 18-22 home record in Lionel Hollins' first season, there's certainly no guarantee they will defeat lowly Orlando.
It's only fitting that in this wacky season for the Nets, they probably will need to win their final game in their not-so- friendly confines to have a shot at making the playoffs. That's what it's come to. Their tenuous grip has slipped.
"You don't want to be put in that position,'' Thaddeus Young said. "But hopefully we can get some help from somewhere and clinch the playoffs.''
In their biggest game of the season, the Nets didn't have the same burning desire that was flowing through the Bulls (49-32). Nikola Mirotic's 26 points led Chicago, which was without heart and soul Joakim Noah (hamstring tendinitis).
The Nets' offensive flow was nonexistent, replaced by hero-style play in which the ball stuck rather than moving effortlessly the way it did during the 8-2 run that preceded this two-game quagmire.
They had 12 assists on 32 baskets compared to Chicago's 26 on 44. Williams, Young, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez shot a combined 16-for-44.
"It's been the results when we play against great teams, especially against great defensive teams,'' Johnson said. "We've got to move the ball a little more and guys have to be aggressive . . . Can't be nervous or scared.''
Williams said the Nets played "selfish,'' a brand of ball that's not going to cut it with so much on the line. That shortcoming has the team with the league's highest payroll on the brink of making early vacation plans.
"You'd think we would play with a little more desperation the way things are playing out right now, but it hasn't,'' Williams said. "So the only thing we can do now is get the one on Wednesday and hope for the best.''