Bulls notes: Deng plays big in small-ball lineup

Bulls notes: Deng plays big in small-ball lineup

Taj: We're just grinding right now

February 3, 2013, 12:30 am
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ATLANTA — While Taj Gibson’s monster game against the Hawks stole the show, Luol Deng wasn’t shabby either Saturday night.

[RELATED: Gibson's career night makes up for absences of Boozer, Noah]

Playing power forward and matched up against the versatile and athletic Josh Smith, Deng played like an All-Star, scoring a game-high 25 points, along with 14 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots.

“Luol’s Luol,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau stated plainly. “Twenty-five points, big shots, 14 rebounds, guarded everyone on the floor.”

Deng discussed in further detail, how he dealt with playing out of position and facing a size disadvantage.

“Playing heavy minutes inside, it’s a lot different than playing heavy minutes outside and that’s because a lot of times when I’m playing the small [forward] and the shot goes up, sometimes I could just be on the perimeter if my guy doesn’t go [to the glass],” he explained. “But as a big, every single time you have to box out or go for the board, so you’re always, always active. To me, that’s the toughest thing, just as a big, banging in there and everything. It takes a lot out of you.”

Robinson’s maturation process continues

After Friday night’s loss in Brooklyn, Bulls point guard Nate Robinson blamed himself for the team’s defeat, repeatedly referring to his struggles shooting.

Again filling in for injured starter Kirk Hinrich, Robinson redeemed himself Saturday, scoring 20 points, handing out eight assists, notching three steals and most importantly, running the show to near perfection.

[RELATED: Thibodeau provides update on walking-wounded Bulls]

“It wasn’t perfect, man. They’re a great team. they play hard, they’ve got a lot of great players over there, but for us, we just knew what we had to do. Our gameplan was pretty much to try to help each other out on the boards, come down and trap when we can, everybody do their job and we did that tonight,” he said. “My teammates, man, I guess they were just making me look better than what I really am. I pass the ball, they shoot, they make it. That’s part of basketball. But for us, I just tried to make the right play, stay in attack mode. If they help, I can pass. Guys were making shots. If they don’t, help out, try to get the layup. I just tried to be aggressive and get everybody involved.

“I was kind of down because I missed a lot of easy shots that I should have made, but today, I was really focused on having fun, going out and just playing basketball, not worry about missing. Just play, no matter shots I made or missed.”

Thibodeau, familiar with Robinson’s game from their shared stint in Boston, continues to push the diminutive scorer to be a better decision-maker and defender, though he seemed mostly satisfied with what he saw Saturday.

“Nate had a big night for us. He ran the team, he made a lot of good plays, the ball was moving, he made the extra pass,” he said, before delving into Robinson’s responsibilities as a floor general. “Go out and play to your strengths, cover your weaknesses, know what’s going on on the floor, read the matchups, just do your job.

“I think he’s really made a commitment to improve defensively and that’s the biggest thing. He’s always been a shot-maker and now he’s got to read when to take the shot, when he’s open, how the game is going. I thought he passed up a couple shots that he should have taken. But I think he’s focused on trying to run the team. I thought he played very, very well.”

Even prior to the game, Thibodeau absolved Robinson of individual blame for Friday’s loss.

“Those are his shots and I never judge a guy. Are they the right shots? Are they his shots? Did he shoot them well? Did the ball go in and out? But there’s a lot more to the game than just shooting the ball and so, the one thing that I like about what Nate has done is I think he’s put a lot more work into his defense. It still needs a lot of work, where he can improve, but he’s moving in the right direction. He’s putting more work into it, he’s studying harder. That part is all good. Nate, throughout his career, has shown that he can make shots. I want him playing to his strengths, I want him covering up his weaknesses and I want him to help lead the team, in a good way,” he explained, then focused on the point guard’s defensive improvement. “Well, I think his focus [has been key]. He’s put a lot more into it. I think the way he’s playing the ball is a lot better. His technique has improved. But he’s capable of doing a lot more, too.”

Thibodeau makes Super Bowl pick

The coach was hesitant to pick a winner for Sunday’s game, which the Bulls will watch as a team in Indianapolis, prior to their game Monday night against the Pacers.

“One of the Harbaughs will win,” he quipped. “I guess I’d probably like to see Baltimore win, just because of Ray Lewis. I think he’s a fierce competitor, but I like both teams.”