Deng-less Bulls preparing for Game 3


May 9

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If the Bulls have a slogan for this season, it might be, “Don’t mind me, I’m just over here bleeding.”

The Bulls trudged back to Chicago for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday against the Miami Heat in the United Center as perhaps the least euphoric team to have taken away home court advantage.

That maybe was less than the 115-768 blowout loss in Miami Wednesday, though that did get their attention, as well as a half dozen technical fouls and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson ejected. But as the Bulls prepared for Friday’s game, the reality of their quest remained vivid as Luol Deng eased out to meet reporters for the first time since his meningitis scare, spinal tap and hospitalization. And it hardly seemed he was ready to play as it appeared he still was working on walking.

Luol Deng

“On Thursday, Deng said he still feels weak and has headaches, which worsen when he moves,” reports Sam Smith. “Which is what made his little shooting drill Thursday problematic. Deng’s got an entire game of physical play going on right inside his head.”

“I’m ok,” Deng said with an exaggerated cough as reporters gently queries about his health. “I’ll be ok. I tried to shoot a little bit and I struggled. I couldn’t do it well. We’ll see. It’s really my first day out of the house and out of the hospital. I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do. I haven’t done anything. It really sucks.”

Though I am proud of the Chicago media as no one then asked Deng how he was going to play LeBron.

You know, he’d give his right arm to be ambidextrous.

It hardly sounded like Deng or Kirk Hinrich, the latter who has been getting more tests on his injured leg, would play Friday and it wouldn’t seem Monday in Game 4. Derrick Rose? He doesn’t appear to be coming through that door, either.

It’s why when you hear coaches all regular season talk about the playoff going to the team that is going to be healthiest we all need to start playing attention.

It’s not like injuries at crucial times are new. There are many famous instances, and rarely do they end well.

One of the more prominent was in the 1989 Finals when the Lakers were on the way to the first ever perfect playoffs—Three, Fo, Fo, Fo—and Magic Johnson and Byron Scott got hurt to open the Finals. The Pistons went onto sweep in the Finals.

This isn’t unprecedented in Bulls playoff history, and not like they were the favorites then. But in 1972 when the Lakers went to the title after their 33-game winning streak—eerie stuff, eh?—the Bulls lost Tom Boerwinkle to a knee injury and then Chet Walker had a hamstring injury and Bob Love a swollen ankle and the Lakers swept the conference semifinals from the 57-win Bulls.

Jerry Sloan’s torn plantar in the 1974 playoffs knocked out the Bulls, and there were many similar disappointments that changed series, like Yao Ming and Kevin Garnett going out in 2009, Dirk Nowitzki in 2003 when the Spurs then overtook the Mavs, Reggie Lewis in 1993, Billy Cunningham in 1968 costing the 76ers a chance to repeat, Tim Duncan in 2000 sending the defending champion Spurs out in the first round and even though it wasn’t in the playoffs, Bill Walton after a 50-10 start for the defending champion Trailblazers in 1978 sending them out after their first round bye.

The Bulls, of course, have been without Rose all season. They were overrun by the flu in the Brooklyn series with Nate Robinson famously vomiting in timeouts, though no apparent offense to coach Tom Thibodeau’s play calling. And then there was Hinrich’s calf injury, which hasn’t much responded to treatment, and Deng’s scare which required a painful spinal tap—I know, not the band—and followup procedure and hospitalization.

Deng went into some detail about what he’s been going through at Bulls practice Thursday and it sounded gruesome.

Deng described numerous symptoms of meningitis to team doctors when the flu wave was overtaking the team. So they went to the hospital for the spinal tap—and Deng did agree it could have been much worse, like meningitis—and then things began to go downhill.

Deng had severe headaches, which do occur. But there also was constant diarrhea, vomiting, struggling to walk, weakness.

Heck, it sounded like a stroke.

“It was scary,” Deng admitted. “Scary for me, scary for everyone that was around me. I’ve never seen anything like that. I never knew of a spinal tap before that. I didn’t know the reaction or the side effects.”

I’m guessing that wasn’t typical.

“I couldn’t control my body, really,” Deng said. “I lost a lot of weight (15 pounds). I’m still trying to get back to being right. I still don’t feel right. I played though a lot of injuries (this season). I went through a torn (wrist) ligament; I had a fractured thumb earlier this season and played with it. I did not think something besides injury would keep me out. And that’s what makes it so hard. I don’t know what else to do.”

Deng said he still feels weak and has headaches, which worsen when he moves. Which is what made his little shooting drill Thursday problematic. Deng’s got an entire game of physical play going on right inside his head.

So much for Bulls and Heat.

Everyone obviously will be on guard Friday after the mayhem of Game 2. Though Miami blew out well ahead after halftime, it seemed clear after the first two games it’s LeBron James who gives everyone on their roster strength. When James was passive for Game 1, they tightened. When he challenged the Bulls interior in Game 2 with a dozen in the first quarter and 19 by halftime, everyone else relaxed—ok, he’s got it—and the shots became easier.

At least the Bulls showed James he’ll have to play in this series and not be the Cleveland LeBron but the LeBron of the end of last season’s playoffs and this season when he took charge of games when it mattered most.

There’s an old saying that character is what you are and reputation is what you think you are. The playoffs are generally going to be about the best player and whether he can set that tone of play. James did Wednesday. Will he once again in Game 3.

Because of Miami’s wide margin of victory in Game 2, the statistics for the series are skewed. But nobody for Miami truly has stood out. Dwyane Wade has been good, though he doesn’t make you look twice anymore. Chris Bosh too often fades from engagement. Shane Battier is three of 10 and Ray Allen was most dynamic after the outcome was decided.

Perhaps Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will give Richard Hamilton a look given the Bulls need for scoring. The Heat has been knocking around Nate Robinson, who feels that less than most people. The Bulls will go hard to Carlos Boozer in Game 3 as they badly need his scoring. He’s only averaging seven points, but the offense has gone away from him too much with Miami’s pressuring of the guards. The Bulls could go to more interior big man to big man passing to counter that, which is a strength.

Obviously, all eyes will be on Noah after his ejection and defiant promise to be ready at home. Miami badly outrebounded the Bulls in Game 2, which has been a rarity in the 18 games between them since the start of the 2010-11 season (9-9).

Though Jimmy Butler has done as well as you can do against James, the Bulls certainly miss Deng. He, of course, misses them and the series and it is pretty clear to anyone who doubted it that it’s been a serious time for Deng and his family.

And while going through all that, Deng admits he was stung by some criticism, especially on the TNT broadcasts, that he only had flu and was sitting out. Deng explained that in several Tweets from his account and elaborated Thursday.

“I just felt like everyone kept saying I was missing the game because of the flu. I’ve been here for nine years (and) I’ve played games with the flu,” said Deng. “I’ve (played) without coming to the media (to say), ‘I’ve had the flu.’ I don’t think the flu would make me miss a game. I might not play well, I might not play the minutes I play, but even if I had the flu, I would sit on the bench. It kind of bothered me a little bit that that’s what was being said when I had a totally different thing. It wasn’t just the flu. I just wanted people to know that I wasn’t missing the game because of the flu. I had a lot of people wishing me well, which I appreciate, but the bottom line was I just wanted people to know that I wasn’t at home, on my couch, just relaxing, watching the game. That wasn’t the case at all.”

Actually, Deng sounded like he was reading medical dictionaries as he went on talking about his blood patch followup treatment and the problems with his white blood cell count.

That’s when you know getting back in transition is not nearly as important as just getting back on your feet.

The Bulls hope to do as much in Game 3.

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