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.