Bulls know there is no replacing Deng


Bulls know there is no replacing Deng

Walking down a United Center hallway in a sharply-tailored suit, Luol Deng was in high spirits, though he declined on-the-record interview requests from the media. Why wouldnt he?

Arguably the Bulls most indispensable player C.J. Watson and even John Lucas III can approximate Derrick Roses production, if not his talent, but who on the Bulls brings to the table Dengs versatilit?

But Dengs injured left wrist, which was in a soft cast, is now the most-discussed topic surrounding the team with the NBAs best record. However, even with Deng, who appears to be in line for his debut All-Star Game appearance, out of the lineup, the Bulls still cruised to an easy win over the lowly Nets.

Obviously were disappointed for Luol because of all the work that hes put in and what he means to our team, but that being said, we also feel very strongly about the people who are filling in and Ronnie Brewer has shown that he can handle starting and play very well, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. He did that when Rip Hamilton was out, hes doing it now. We have a lot of confidence in his ability. Kyles Korver a proven player, hes hit a lot of big shots for us. I thought Brian Scalabrine was terrific. We still have Jimmy Butler, so we feel that we have more than enough. We didnt know how much Jo would be able to play and he did a pretty job for us.

While Brewer filled Dengs role as the starting small forward and well, contributing 11 points and five rebounds, though he did most of his damage as a scorer in the opening period veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton perhaps came closest to matching Dengs nightly duties. In addition to playing a game and season-high 42 minutes, the 33-year-old, on the same night he scored his 15,000th career point, was a jack of all trades, pouring in an efficient 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, dishing out 10 assists and playing with an otherwise all-reserve second unit lineup, as Deng often does in Thibodeaus rotation.

Guys had to step up tonight without him, said Hamilton, who joked that he complained, youre killing me, about his high usage. Its a huge loss for us, so we just knew that we had to come together and I thought that Ronnie did a great job starting the game out.

Still, as much as Hamiltons all-around game helped matters Monday, his teammates know theres no replacing Dengs presence.

Its tough. Lus really a glue guy, somebody who really does everything for us, said Joakim Noah. Hes going to be missed, but weve got to look at the big picture, but hes got to be healthy when it matters.

Added Rose: It was kind of weird, knowing that usually I could throw the ball over to him. Hell make a play, get fouled, go to the hole or shoot a jump shot, but we really didnt miss a beat.

The guys that came in Ronnie played great, knocking down shots, playing defense we jumped on them pretty quickly, continued Rose, who like Noah, was in his first game back from injury himself. I try not to think about it. We try to stay positive. We have to keep our spirits high. The guys that are injured are doing everything possible to get back on the court. Thats all we can wait for.

Hamilton put the Bulls wave of injuries in perspective.

Well, its tough. The schedules been crazy. You can see all the injuries around the NBA. But the thing about us, guys are really stepping up, he explained. Guys are very in tune to what Coach Thibs wants us to do, so when one guys goes down, the next guy steps up and were all happy for that. When youve got players really caring for each other and when guys get their name called, theyre ready to play.

Concurred Thibodeau: Its a testament to our guys. I think we have the right guys and they showed that last year, and theyre showing it this year, that whenever theyre called upon, theyre ready to go. Theyve all put a lot of work in. Were all confident in their ability. Theyre not here by accident. We feel theyre very talented and they all can play, so when they get the opportunity, they all do well and we expect them to do well.

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Anytime Nikola Mirotic is on an island defensively in a crucial moment of a game, there’s a general sense of nervousness and doubt that’s palpable inside the United Center.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when Mirotic defended Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown well enough to force a travel in the final minute of the Bulls’ 105-99 win Thursday night.

With the Celtics down two, Brown started his drive from the top of the key and pivoted back to his right. When he rose up for a jumper or pass, Mirotic was right in his face and Brown, a talented rookie playing in his second NBA game, didn’t know where to go.

He came back down with the ball still in his hands for a traveling violation, and the stage was set for Dwyane Wade’s closing heroics.

Wade, the closer was set up by Mirotic, the stopper—well, let’s not go that far just yet.

“I tried just to play good defense, to make him drive the ball because we want him to shoot a contested shot,” Mirotic said. “It was big-time defense. We needed that one. After that, Dwyane Wade has huge stop and made that 3. It’s a team job, team defense. I was just trying to be a part of that. I’m very happy about the game.”

In all fairness, Brown is a rookie and the Bulls would rather not see Mirotic in a one-on-one situation late in games defensively. But it appears as if Fred Hoiberg will give him the opportunities to close games so Mirotic will find himself in instances where he’ll have to make plays on both ends.

Hoiberg called it the defensive play of the game, and agreed with the assessment of Mirotic being an underrated defensive rebounder despite his struggles on that end of the floor.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It just goes to show you even when your shot isn’t falling, you can still have a positive impact,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his attack. He was getting in the paint and got some offensive rebound tip-ins as well so just overall solid game.”

Although Hoiberg had to make the decision to insert Taj Gibson as a starter at power forward over Mirotic, it’s not hard to see scenarios like Thursday where both are together to close games—Mirotic will be needed to spread the floor for Wade and Jimmy Butler to create shots in one-on-one situations.

Mirotic missed five of his six 3-point shots but was flawless inside the line, scoring 15 with nine rebounds.

“To be honest, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my 3-point shot,” said Mirotic, although Hoiberg said Mirotic’s attempts were good looks. “I tried to find a way to score, make an impact on the game---rebound the ball, play unselfish. My goal was to play good defense because I know that’s the next step.”

Getting over the idea of losing a starting job many believed would’ve been his given the composition of the roster seems to be behind Mirotic, who was a starter last season before acute appendicitis forced him out of action before the All-Star break.

“It doesn’t feel right to be honest. But no disappointment. It is what it is,” Mirotic said. “I want to not think and be focused and play my game. Now that I come from the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, figure out how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to help your team and play well.’”

Gibson and Mirotic were the only Bulls to shoot over 50 percent, as Gibson’s strong preseason play carried over to the opener. Make no mistake, if the Bulls are to exceed modest expectations, Mirotic will have to step up, as his production is no longer a luxury.

“It’s going to be a long season. But I told Fred it’s no problem,” Mirotic said. “I respect your decision. Taj is an amazing player. He’s playing so good. He’s in great shape. He deserves to be the starter. He has played a lot of years here. So I respect that. I’m cool with that. What I want to do is play my game, improve this year, make my team win more games. That’s all I can do.”

Watch: Dwyane Wade's boyish exuberance comes out after his first win with hometown Bulls

Watch: Dwyane Wade's boyish exuberance comes out after his first win with hometown Bulls

NBA superstar Dwyane Wade showed just how happy he was to capture his first regular season win for this hometown Bulls as he walked to the locker room on Thursday night.

Wade was unable to contain his excitement as he left the court, blurting out the following.

"Thats the way to do it. That's a homecoming right there. I like that one."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Wade finished his Bulls debut with 22 points, including hitting four three-pointers, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists.

All capped off by a postgame hug with mom too.

Now that's one heck of a homecoming right there.