Bulls prepare to face Luol Deng for first time
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter January 21, 2014 2:36PM
Former teammates on the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng, right, talks with Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson before an NBA basketball game in Denver, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Bulls at Cavaliers
The facts: 6 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.
Updated: January 21, 2014 10:48PM
Under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls treat every game as nothing more than an opportunity to win. But this one won’t be just another game for Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and most of their teammates.
It’ll be their first time facing Luol Deng as an opponent, when the Bulls play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday (6 p.m., Comcast Sports Net) at Quicken Loans Arena.
‘‘It will probably be weird,’’ Noah said. ‘‘It will probably be strange, but I still want to kick his ass. I love Luol. He’s my brother. But when that ball goes up, he’s not going to be my brother any more.’’
Speaking to reporters in Cleveland, Deng acknowledged that as much as he would like it to be another game, it would be ‘‘a little weird’’ to face the Bulls.
‘‘It will be good to see the guys,’’ Deng said. ‘‘Honestly, it’s another game. When I go out there it will be weird, because it’s [against] guys I practiced with and I was just with them not too long ago. That aspect of it will be weird.
‘‘But I can’t really answer the emotional part until ... the ball goes up. I’m not going to start crying and start hugging the guys. I’m sure they’re going to go after me as guys that I’m close with. But when the ball goes up, there’s going to be nothing better for them to beat me and vice-versa. I can’t wait to beat them. So it will be interesting. Whoever wins ... you’re going to be hearing from whoever wins a lot.’’
As expected, Deng has fit in well with the Cavaliers, who are 3-3 since they acquired him. Deng is averaging 18.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 50 percent (10-of-20) from three-point range. He has averaged 22.5 points in his last four games, with 27 in a road victory over the Lakers (including 5-of-5 three-point shooting) and 25 the following night in a loss at Portland.
In 23 games with the Bulls, Deng averaged 19 points, 6.9 rebounds and shot 45 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range.
‘‘I know how fierce of a competitor he is, so I know he’s going to be trying to beat us.’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’re going to be trying to beat him. And after the game we’re going to visit.
‘‘I have a lot of respect for him — all the stuff that he did for us, what he did for me personally. But that friendship aside ... we’re going to be ready.’’
Butler, one of several Deng disciples on the Bulls, likely will draw the assignment of guarding his former teammate and is looking forward to it.
‘‘It’ll be fun,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Lu taught me a lot. I think there will be a lot of smiles out there on the court, along with business. You get to play against another great guy. Unfortunately, he’s on another team. But he’s done so much and he’s had a tremendous career. It’ll be nice to guard him.’’
Still, after the pre-jump handshakes, it will be all business for the Bulls, who have won 11 of their last 15 games and are one game behind Atlanta for third place in the Eastern Conference. And they could be shorthanded against the Cavaliers, with point guard Kirk Hinrich not expected to play after suffering a hamstring injury against the Lakers on Monday night.
‘‘We’ve dug out of a big hole. [But] we’ve got a lot of digging to do,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘By no means have we arrived. We have to go step by step. If we start looking down the road [or] what happened behind us, we’re going to lose sight of exactly what’s in front of us. We have to be ready for Cleveland.’’
Note: The Bulls officially announced the trade of guard Marquis Teague to the Brooklyn Nets for 22-year-old Tornike ‘‘Toko’’ Shengelia, a 6-9, 220-pound forward who was averaging 1.5 points in eight minutes a game.