Deng believes as Bulls top Grizzlies
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter December 30, 2013 9:36PM
Updated: December 30, 2013 10:58PM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the Bulls, forward Luol Deng envisions a return to normalcy.
Strange, considering he’s seeing it from the bench after missing his fifth consecutive game with an ailing left Achilles tendon.
“I really believe that,’’ said Deng, who insists the Bulls’ best basketball is still in front of them. “I really think so. We had just an unbelievable amount of injuries. Guys have been in and out.
“I’m really excited. And I think we’re better than what our record says.’’
Deng had better hope so because even with the 95-91 victory Monday over the Grizzlies, the Bulls were still only 12-17, and 5-11 on the road.
Deng is excited because his return is imminent and the organization is still pushing forward. That was evident when the Bulls acquired D.J. Augustin off waivers, and general manager Gar Forman still could have something up his sleeve as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches.
“I know the organization is in it,’’ Deng said. “As players, we want to win. As a coaching staff, we want to win. I know the organization does. When you get players added in, it definitely shows that you’re trying to keep going.’’
The Augustin addition continued to pay dividends against the Grizzlies, especially during one stretch in the fourth quarter when the Bulls’ lead started to slip away.
Up 72-71 with just under seven minutes left, Augustin hit a clutch three-pointer to increase the lead to four. A minute later with the shot clock winding down, Augustin made another deep three to put the Bulls up 81-76.
Coach Tom Thibodeau has been raving about Augustin since he arrived over two weeks ago and has enough confidence in him to team him with starter Kirk Hinrich late in games in a two-point-guard attack.
Hinrich seemed to benefit again against the Grizzlies (13-17) and made a key three-pointer with 3:32 left.
But the Bulls aren’t over their offensive inconsistency by any means. They had several chances to put away the Grizzlies late, but after center Joakim Noah missed a layup with a minute left, the Grizzlies grabbed the rebound, called a timeout and prepared for one last charge down by six.
It looked like guard Mike Conley would lead that charge when he had a clear layup, but Hinrich blocked the shot, and Noah got fouled.
Conley cut the Bulls’ lead to four, making a jumper and drawing a foul, but that was as close as the Grizzlies would get.
All eyes now turn to Deng, who could return Tuesday night against the Raptors at the United Center.
“We want to make sure [Deng’s] good,’’ Thibodeau said. “Once that occurs, we’ll move forward from there.”