Bulls

First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

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First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

CHARLOTTE Just sat there like its a regular thing, said Luol Deng, though his smirk betrayed his even tone. It happens every day.

Never one to be consumed with individual accolades, Deng said all the right things about debut All-Star Game selection, deflecting the credit to his teammates and coaches, reasoning that it just wasnt his time in past seasons. But all along, it was obvious that he was nearly bursting at the seams with pride.

Its a great honor. Im really happy. Its good to see. I dont really have the words for it, except the fact that Im really happy. I just want to go around and thank all my teammates because of the way were playing and the record we have is why Im getting the opportunity, he explained prior to the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. I think you get a certain feeling that youre going to make it. I had a feeling, I dont know why. I was still surprised to see it. Youre sitting there, youre watching it and youre just kind of relieved a little bit that you made it. But this year kind of felt different going into it. I think theres a few years that Ive watched it that I thought that I might get in, but this year, for some reason, I just thought it was going to happen.

Honestly and I dont want to go too much into it; dont get me wrong, its an honor and its a great accomplishment theres years in the past, where I felt like I played like an All-Star, but maybe some guys had a better year that year and made it over me. Its good to see. Its really been an up-and-down kind of career and to be there, a lot of people would see it as your best year. Thats just the way people see it because of the credit that you gain and I really think Im having a great year. I think its one of the best years that I had.

Statistically, that might not be the case, as Deng has put up gaudier numbers than he has this campaign. But now, with the Bulls recognized as a true title contender, while much of the spotlight falls on reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, Deng is finally getting the appreciation he deserves.

Its a great honor for him. Hes certainly earned it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau who might be joining Deng and Rose in Orlando for the event, though he typically downplayed that notion, saying, I dont even think about it. Im just thinking about us being ready to play Charlotte when asked about the possibility. I thought it would happen. The one thing about Lu, if you really look at his career, I think each year that hes been in the league, hes gotten better and better, and I think thats a sign of how serious he is, how he approaches the game and hes obviously a very well-rounded player. Theres not anything that he doesnt do well and obviously hes very significant for us, in terms of us winning.

I think that he certainly had a great year last year. I think this year he picked up right where he left off. If you look at his entire career, each year hes gotten better and better, so his experience, the way he studies, the way he prepares for each season, it lends itself to improvement and hes one of those guys who I think will continually get better throughout his career, and for us hes invaluable. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to our team unselfishness, hard work, cares about nothing but winning and how he can help and hes a great teammate, hes very coachable and theres nothing that he doesnt do well. He plays great defense, he moves without the ball, he shares the ball, he can hit threes, he can put in on the floor, he slashes, he can post. But its his leadership, its the way he approaches things every day, the example he sets. You cant say enough about him, he went on to say. Its great. I think its a byproduct of winning. We have a couple other guys who are deserving, as well, and hopefully the more you win, the more recognition the team receives.

Added Deng himself: It depends, really, from who. It depends who youre talking about. I think, to be a coach in this league, youve got to know the game and I think everyone has their own opinion. Coaches select every year and I think coaches appreciate what I do, and the way I play. I think maybe in the past years, whether its team record or some other guys had a better year, maybe thats the reason Im left out, but I always get a lot of compliments and talking to a lot of coaches around the league who appreciate the way I play, and to me, my coaching staff, my teammates and those who know the game, I think they see it. Im not so much caught up in people who dont know the game, who just want to see the flashiness.

Deng joked that he wouldnt reveal when or how he learned of the honor he said he found out from watching it on television, like everybody else, though people he trusted, wouldnt really joke about certain things if they dont know, indicated he would make the East team as well as his immediate reaction to it, but after raising his expectations in previous seasons only to be disappointed, he now finds himself having to figure out what to do while in Orlando, as he hasnt participated in an All-Star event since the second season of his career, when he played in the Rookie-Sophomore Game.

I think Im going to talk to Derrick about that, honestly. Since my rookie year, my sophomore year, which is way different, I dont know what youre supposed to do, I dont know how it goes, quipped Deng, who also joked that hopefully I wont get a breakaway layup, as hes not known for the high-flying aerial acrobatics that fans have come to expect in All-Star contests. Its the honest truth. I really dont know. Ill find out the schedule. Am I supposed to play D? I dont know. Well just see how it goes.

One thing is for sure: Deng, if Thibodeau is indeed coaching, is unlikely to play the high-minute totals he does for the Bulls.

I doubt it, he laughed. Coach is big on rest, so well use that right.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”