In Rose's absence, Deng steps up assist game

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In Rose's absence, Deng steps up assist game

No disrespect to C.J. Watson, but when replacing a player like Derrick Rose, it takes a village. In the Bulls Tuesday night win over Sacramento, a surprising source, All-Star small forward Luol Deng -- not fill-in Watson, usual third-stringer John Lucas, who had a strong outing off the bench in a backup role, or newly re-acquired veteran Mike James, point guards all -- led the Bulls in assists, handing out a career-high 11.

As versatile as Deng is on the floor, one knock on him throughout his career has been although hes an effective slasher, he isnt the most proficient ballhandler for his position. Dengs offensive game is primarily based on getting to the basket or setting up pull-up jumpers off one or two dribbles, as well as moving without the ball, finishing in transition, spot-up shots from long range and when he has a mismatch, posting up smaller defenders.

In the offseason, Deng starred for Great Britains national team in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament and while the squad struggled, he got valuable experience as a primary ballhandler, being the teams focal point. Additionally, prior to the lockout, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau encouraged him to further develop that aspect of his game.

Its something we spoke about. The first thing Thibs said to improve after taking the Bulls head-coaching job was my three-point shooting, extending my range a little bit. Then, last year, it was I wanted to handle the ball more and the two things last year was the ballhandling and the post. I know I havent been in the post as much, but if its needed, Ive been working on that, still work on that with Griff and I work on my ballhandling a lot with Griff, but I got a chance to handle it a lot with the national team, Deng explained after the Bulls Wednesday-afternoon practice. Its definitely helped us a lot, especially when I rebound and I push it. Were a lot faster coming down the floor and trying to get easy baskets.

Added Thibodeau about the first-time All-Star, who hell join, along with Rose, in Orlando on Feb. 26 as the Eastern Conferences head coach: He was terrific, played an all-around game, played very good defense, scored, he play-maked and he was leading, and thats what we count on him every game. Whatever the team needs, he provides.

We like some of the stuff that hes been doing lately and we wanted to go to it more, and its an option that we have. Hes a very unselfish player, so if theres two players on him, we always want him to hit the open man, he continued. Jo was playmaking, too. We like the versatility of both Jo and Luol to make plays.

As for the Bulls starting point guard, Rose wasnt at the Berto Center with his teammates, who had a light practice, reviewing film and shooting, according to Thibodeau. Instead, he was seeing a back specialist about his recurring lower back spasms.

Still day-to-day. Hes still not quite ready, so well see where he is and each day hes gotten better. Were encouraged by that, said Thibodeau. Hes off-site getting treatment right now. Hes doing well."

The coach, however, wouldnt speculate about his superstars return.

Hes just doing his rehab right now, so well see.

Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

AUBURN HILLS, MICH—Rajon Rondo almost made it to the quarter mark of the season without incident, but his frustrations got the better of him in Dallas last weekend in a situation with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.

He returned from his one-game suspension in a light mood, but didn’t take things lightly when addressing questions from the media after the Bulls’ 102-91 loss to Detroit.

Rondo admitted that he feels so strongly about things that he doesn’t let them go as easily as he should, which could have been the case with Boylen. Rondo threw a towel after an exchange with Boylen during the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Mavericks.

“That’s a good way to put it. Me as a player, a point guard, I have to handle a situation better,” Rondo said. “But when I feel a certain way, I’m gonna speak on it. My whole thing is always for the betterment of the team.

“If it comes off wrong or a certain way I’ll try to work on that. But for the most part I’m not a selfish individual, I try to do what’s best for the team, try to watch film with my teammates. That’s just part of the game, who I am.”

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When asked if he actually threw a towel at Boylen, Rondo quipped, “You gotta look at the film,” and tried to downplay the situation as best he could, noting the timing of the event in question.

He apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates and believes there won’t be lasting effects, although the Bulls are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

“Hopefully it’ll be the last three-game losing streak,” Rondo said. “It’s about how you handle adversity. We usually handle it well as far as bouncing back.”

Calling the incident “part of the game,” Rondo didn’t want to address specifics but given his history of instances such as these in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, this one makes it a little harder to shake the reputation of being difficult to deal with.

“I have a good relationship with my team and I take pride in being a great teammate,” Rondo said. “I think we’re still on the same page. When you lose, things get blown out of proportion. When you win, it covers everything up. So we have to get back to winning basketball.”

His teammates have been supportive both behind the scenes and publicly, and were happy to have him back despite not being able to quell the losing streak.

“It was good. That's our starting point guard. We need veteran guys on this team,” Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. “We need our bodies. He's our leader today so when we got down early he was the one who kept talking to us defensively. He's so smart out there on the floor, takes certain things away, get out in open transition. The reason we got back in the game, he did a good job of leading us in those moments.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Bulls Slide Continues After Loss In Detroit

Bulls Talk Podcast: Bulls Slide Continues After Loss In Detroit

In the latest BullsTalk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill break down the Bulls latest losing streak. What is the biggest problem with the Bulls facing the Bulls going forward? Why was the rotation completely different in Monday and Tuesday’s games?

Then listen to Fred Hoiberg’s media session after the 101-92 loss in Detroit.

With the Spurs coming up on Thursday, the guys discuss how San Antonio continues to be an elite team despite the retirement of Tim Duncan. Will Perdue shares his memories of being traded for Dennis Rodman, of playing 4 seasons for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and the relationship he has with the legendary coach. Plus Kendall shares a story of Pat Riley’s motivational locker room tactics.

Catch the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast right here!