PORTLAND, ORE.: The thought was Luol Deng would be fully ingratiated into the Cavaliers’ system by the end of this West Coast trip. The reality, according to Deng, is it will take much longer than that for him to feel comfortable with what the Cavs are doing.
The surprise is that Deng says he’s struggling defensively, which has long been considered his strength.
“I’m making a lot of mistakes,” Deng said. “People who don’t know the system might not notice it, but there’s a couple rotations I’m putting the team in bad situations because I’m not used to it.”
That might be, but Deng’s impact has been undeniable. He is averaging 18.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in four games with the Cavs, who are 2-2 on this trip that concludes today at the Denver Nuggets. The Cavs won just two of their first 17 road games, then matched that win total on this trip. Deng is shooting 52 percent (53 percent on 3-pointers) and is giving the Cavs an enormous lift at a position that has been a huge weakness for the past 3½ years.
“I know it’s early, but I think what he really will bring to the team is that toughness, the intangibles of having played with the Bulls in a lot of high-intensity playoff matchups,” Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He epitomizes team play and toughness, and for a young team like Cleveland, I think that’s something Mike Brown will be able to lean on.”
Brown is leaning on Deng even more than expected. After limiting Deng to less than 25 minutes in each of his first two games, Brown has thrown any minutes guidelines out the window in the past two. Deng is back to playing between 38 and 39 minutes a night, which has been his standard throughout his career.
After he blew through Deng’s 30-minute limit in Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown played coy.
“What minute limit?” he asked. “We’re trying to win baby. It’s out the window right now.”
The Cavs are hopeful the more Deng is around, the more victories will follow. He still doesn’t have a place to live in Cleveland and was apartment hunting on his phone an hour before Wednesday’s loss at the Blazers.
He was asking where different guys on the team lived and will find a place this weekend after the Cavs return from their longest trip of the season. For now, the nine-day trip came at a great time.
“Being traded and going on the road trip right away is not the greatest thing [for me], but I think for the team it’s better than if I was at home and we had four games at home,” Deng said. “Now we’re getting on the plane together, we’re getting on the bus together. They’re getting more comfortable with me, I’m getting more comfortable with them. Right now I think we’re getting better. That’s what we have to understand as a team and that’s the direction we have to keep going.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.