Distractions are surrounding the Chicago Bulls right now, at the season's most critical moment.
Before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls dealt with questions about an interview where Derrick Rose reportedly said the NBA has a huge problem with performance-enhancing drugs. And now, the buildup to Game 4 on Tuesday night has been largely about Joakim Noah directing an anti-gay slur toward a fan.
Almost lost in that shuffle: The Bulls need to find a way to slow the Miami Heat — and fast.
And that's what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team is worried about more than anything.
"I think you're going to be challenged in every way possible," the NBA's reigning coach of the year said Monday, after the team held meetings at its posh downtown Miami hotel. "I think the important thing to understand is that if you have done everything possible to prepare yourself, that's all you have to worry about. You shouldn't feel pressure if you've done that."
The Bulls are challenged right now in ways they couldn't have seen coming.
The story where Rose was said to have told ESPN the Magazine his alleged thoughts about drug matters — he denied saying what the magazine attributed to him — lost buzz quickly, especially after Noah got into some verbal jousting with a fan after taking a seat on the Chicago bench during the midpoint of the first quarter on Sunday night.
Television cameras caught Noah using a profanity, then the slur. The NBA fined Noah $50,000 on Monday "for using a derogatory and offensive term from the bench."
"The fan said something that was disrespectful towards me," Noah said, about five hours before the fine was announced. "And I went back at him. Got it on camera. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm not like that. I'm an open-minded guy. I said the wrong thing and I'm going to pay the consequences — deal with the consequences — like a man. I don't want to be a distraction to the team right now."
So for a change, it's not the Heat under the microscope.
They practiced as usual Monday, not having to deal with any sniff of controversy. Wins in the last two games have given Miami the upper hand in the East finals, and another victory on Tuesday night in Game 4 would move the Heat maybe just 48 minutes away from a trip to play for the NBA championship.
"All we've done to this point is do exactly what they did at home," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday as practice wound down. "They won the first game at home and we have to find a way in a possession game to come out ahead again tomorrow night. There is not going to be one easy possession in this series."
For Noah, there may not be any easy moments of any sort on Tuesday, when he faces Heat fans again.
Noah and NBA officials met Monday morning. Noah said he emerged from that talk prepared to "pay the price" for what happened. That price turned out to be 1.6 percent of his roughly $3.1 million salary this season. Noah agreed to an extension last year, worth about $60 million through the 2015-16 season.
"I'll remember," Noah said. "I'll remember it for a long time."