Its been evident for a while now, from how it affects his ballhandling to his declining rebounding totals. Luol Dengs left wrist is bothering him.
Privately, hell admit it, saying quietly, It hurts, even after wins or nights when he puts up big numbers. But turn on a camera or a tape recorder and hell claim its fine, even with a huge ice pack on it in the locker room.
At least until Thursday night. Dengs numbers five points on 1-for-9 shooting werent strong, but while his versatile, all-around game cant be judged by statistics alone, it was clear that the torn ligaments in his left wrist have taken their toll, as he could be seen conferring with the teams trainers on the sidelines.
I hate talking about my wrist, he began. Im going to talk with the medical staff and Thibs. The past few games, its escalated a little bit. Got to kind of bring it down again. Just managing it the last few games, Ive been trying to avoid it and everything, but its been a tough one.
Deng declined to have surgery to repair the injury and now insists hell stick to that plan, despite the pain he deals with on a daily basis.
I said it from the start: Im not taking that route. I think mostly its going to be rest, but its getting better. Its definitely better than when I first did it and when I first came back, he said. There was a period of time when it felt great. The last I dont know how many games the pain was kind of high again. Just got to kind of control it and monitor it.
On the court, while hes shot the ball well from long range especially in clutch situations and has even had games where his production is obvious, such as back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound games in Derrick Roses absence, from dribbling the ball with his left hand to snatching rebounds with two hands, the injurys impact on him has been noticeable as of late.
Its a lot of stuff. It is what it is, he acknowledged. Ive just got to find ways to adjust my game. Ive proved that I can play with it. I know I can play with it. Its just that some days its going to feel great, some days its going to feel terrible. Just got to bring it down.
Still, even with the injury, Deng has been able to impact the game as a defender, offensive facilitator and general source of stability for the Bulls, something that hasnt gone unnoticed by his coach.
I dont get wrapped up in the shooting, said Tom Thibodeau. Theres going to be some nights he doesnt shoot it as well, but what we count on him every night is his defense, playmaking, toughness and hes shown he has the capability of playing well when hes not shooting well, as does every player on our team and thats what we have to recognize. When its not going our way, theres still other ways we can help our team and thats what we have to do.
Since the first-time All-Star silently guts it out most of the time, it might come as a surprise to his teammates that the iron man is even considering the possibility of rest to alleviate the pain.
Tonight I think he was grabbing it a little bit, but he still played, said Rose, who has dealt with his own share of ailments this season. I dont really know how hes feeling right now, but I know he should be able to play through it.
Not only will Deng have to play through it for the rest of the regular season and an expected deep playoff run, as the face of Great Britains national team, hell also have to suit up in the Olympics for the host country. But while it wont get easier any time soon, this is a decision he clearly pondered before opting not to have surgery and should be remembered when he endures occasional struggles.