MIAMI — Just because it’s the Heat, the Bulls’ regular-season opener and Derrick Rose’s first regular-season game since April of 2012, don’t expect Luol Deng to treat it like any other game.
“It’s just about starting the season, seriously. It’s about getting over this game. It’s 82 games. I know how big it is for everyone: Derrick is back, it’s Miami, the champs, and they’re getting their rings. I think it’s more excitement about the season starting than anything. But as players, it’s a game that we want to win and move on forward to the next game,” the even-keeled All-Star small forward explained.
“It doesn’t change. We always do the same thing. We play all teams the same. We keep our style the way we play and try to execute. Coach is going to have some plays he wants to run against certain teams, but our defense is always the same.
“It’s how the season goes. Who’s doing what, who’s feeling great. Every game is different. We’ve got a lot of weapons now. I think the biggest thing is to try to create baskets from the way we play defense. Create easy baskets, go out and run. Our fast break is a lot better with Derrick, so try to get easy points. But I think that’s what’s going to be different than last year.”
At the same time, Deng understands it’s a monumental task to not only beat the Heat, but for him individually, to defend fellow small forward LeBron James, the league’s reigning MVP, though he understands it comes with the territory.
“Wednesday you’re going to ask me the same question about Carmelo [Anthony of the Knicks, who the Bulls face in their Halloween home opener at the United Center], so it doesn’t stop for me,” explained Deng, regarded as one of the best defenders in the league at his position. “I always believe that our team defense is so good that anyone in the NBA who is guarding them will have more confidence knowing that the guys that you’re going to battle with. I think our defense as a team is one of the best, and our big guys can’t wait to help, so that always helps.”
As far as the Heat as a team, Deng and the Bulls are so familiar with the opponent, that nothing really comes as a surprise, even after observing Miami’s new additions—such as former Heat draft pick Michael Beasley, ex-No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and original Bulls draft pick Roger Mason Jr., who briefly considered returning to Chicago before taking his talents to South Beach—in the preseason.
“Preseason is over with. You try to see how the new guys are fitting in with certain teams. I don’t think they have a lot of new additions. They’re still a very similar team and I think they feel the same about us. It’s a game tonight, the start of a season. It’s a long season; this game has a lot of attention for its reasons. But as a player, you’ve just really got to understand that it’s a long season. Try to come out tonight and win the game, but at the end of the day, when it’s over, you still have 81 games,” he explained.
“We haven’t even played yet. I think I could answer that question better 40 games into the season. But this is the NBA. I think they’re the champs; you’ve got to give them all the credit. They’re still good and how the season goes, then you could answer those questions. But as of right now, it’s all about getting off to a good start and trying to win.”