Try as he might, Luol Deng said he doesn’t want tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls to be viewed strictly as Deng facing his old team. It’s a little late for that.
Just two weeks after Deng was dealt to the Cavs, he’ll face his old team in his second home game at Quicken Loans Arena. It’s already the final scheduled meeting of the season between the two teams, so Deng most probably won’t have to worry about playing in front of the Chicago fans again until next season. But it still will be a strange night, although he insists he’ll do his best to treat it like any other game.
“When I go out there it will be weird, because it’s guys I practiced with and I was just with them not too long ago. That aspect will be weird,” Deng said. “When the ball goes up, I’m not going to start crying and start hugging the guys.”
Deng’s transition to the Cavs has been fairly smooth. His rebounds and assist numbers are down, but he’s averaging about the same amount of points as he was with the Bulls and he’s shooting a significantly higher percentage (.494 compared to .452 with the Bulls). His 3-point touch has also returned. He’s making half of his 3-point attempts with the Cavs after making only 27 percent this season with the Bulls.
If there is a place he has struggled, Deng insists it’s defensively. The defensive responsibilities are a bit different — the Cavs defend pick-and-rolls different than the Bulls typically do — but he has still been a huge upgrade over the Cavs’ previous attempts at small forward.
His departure from Chicago was so jarring that Bulls center Joakim Noah didn’t address the issue with reporters for days.
“I love Luol,” Noah told Chicago reporters Tuesday. “He’s my brother. But when that ball goes up, he’s not going to be my brother.”
Deng joked Tuesday if he hears the plays Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau calls out, he’ll try to warn his new teammates what is coming. The Cavs will take all the help they can get. They’ve struggled beating the Bulls the past three years and given the early season hole they’ve dug, every game carries added importance.
They’re 11 games under .500 and two games out of the final playoff spot in the East. This is the second game of a five-game homestand, the longest home stretch of the season, and they’re facing a Bulls team that almost stubbornly continues to win despite losing Derrick Rose and now Deng. The Bulls are 6-2 since losing Deng. The Cavs are 3-3 with him in the lineup.
“It will be fun. It will definitely be weird,” Deng said. “But honestly, I think as soon as the ball goes up, I want to play basketball and I want to win the game. It won’t really matter after that.”
After further review…
Mike Brown said if he had it to do over again, he would use Deng on the inbounds pass at the end of Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks instead of Jarrett Jack. The Cavs couldn’t get the ball inbounded in part because Jack couldn’t see over the taller defender.
Brown said he wanted Deng on the floor rather than inbounding in case the Mavericks switched defensively, then Deng might have been able to shoot a game-tying 3-pointer over a smaller guard.
“If I could do it again, yeah, I’d have Luol take it out of bounds, knowing what happened,” Brown said. “Obviously, I don’t want to put Jack in a situation like that in the future, so Luol will probably be the main guy who takes it out.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. 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.