All-Star small forward Luol Deng has earned a reputation as one of the league’s top ironmen, if not the premier workhorse in the NBA, so his absence Saturday night, in the Bulls’ 92-75 loss to the Pistons at the United Center, was conspicuous.
Deng is suffering from a sore left Achilles’ tendon and although the Bulls’ morning shootaround is when knowledge of the injury first came to light—thanks to teammate Joakim Noah and later confirmed by Bulls head coach Thibodeau, albeit reluctantly—he’s actually been playing through the ailment since the team’s Nov. 27 win, coincidentally at Detroit.
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“I tried to go. We didn’t make the decision until earlier, shootaround. Last game, I wasn’t sure before the game. I felt better throughout the day, then I tweaked it a little bit in the second quarter, the last game and it just kind of flared up on me the next day. A lot of swelling and it’s still got a lot of swelling,” the Bulls’ leading scorer explained. “The way it happened, it’s kind of weird. A guy fell, kind of stepped on the side of my leg, kind of twisted my ankle. He stepped on my Achilles’, like kind of tweaked it a little bit. That’s how it really flared up to begin with.
“Mostly, I’ve got to ice it as much as I can and elevate, just get the swelling down. But I did an MRI and everything was fine,” he continued. “I want to get back as soon as I can. We’re going to just treat it these next two days and my mindset is to be ready for the next game. If I feel like I can run out there, I will play. I don’t know about the minutes, I don’t know how much I’ll play. But just where it’s good enough and comfortable enough where I can be effective out there.”
[BULLS: Without Deng, Bulls blown out at home]
Given that the Bulls’ next game, Tuesday against the Bucks at home, is the beginning of a stretch of four games in five nights—two sets of back-to-back contests—the presence of the league’s two-time reigning minutes-per-game leader is crucial, perhaps explaining, even with Saturday’s disappointing result, why bigger-picture caution was exercised in the first place, in order to have Deng available for the long haul.