The Bulls had been one of the league’s hottest teams, winning 20 of 26 games, before losing their last two games to Boston and New Jersey.
Chicago has lost two straight for the first time since dropping its final two games in December, and is in danger of matching its longest losing streak since losing three in a row—to Miami, Washington and San Antonio—in the first week of December.
The Bulls committed 18 turnovers and allowed New Jersey to shoot 50 percent from the field in a 107-97 road loss on Tuesday. Kirk Hinrich had 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as Chicago lost the opener of its five-game trip. The Bulls play at Miami, Dallas, Houston and Minnesota before returning home against Sacramento on Feb. 15.
Center Eddy Curry played just 15 minutes Monday because of foul trouble. The 6-foot-11 center had nine points, four rebounds and three turnovers. He’s averaging 15.4 points a game and is eighth in the league with a .529 field-goal percentage.
Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas hit his first five shots and had 11 points in the opening 4:44, but foul trouble limited him to three points the rest of the half.
“Shaq is the best big man in the league,” said Ilgauskas, who finished with 23 points. “You waste so much energy playing against him on defense that you don’t have much left on the offensive end.”
O’Neal, who leads the league with his .606 field-goal percentage, will start at center for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game on Feb. 20 in Denver. The 7-foot center averages 23 points and 10.6 rebounds a game.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 3): Bulls - 3rd place, 4 1/2 GB, Central Division. Heat - 1st place (tied), Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bulls - Hinrich, 15.8 ppg and 7 apg; Chandler, 9 rpg. Heat - Wade, 23.7 ppg and 7.5 apg; O’Neal, 10.6 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Heat, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 3; Heat, 105-81. At Chicago, Christian Laettner had a season-high 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting to lead the Heat over the Bulls. Hinrich scored all 17 of his points in the first half to lead Chicago.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bulls - 7-11 on the road; Heat - 18-5 at home.