DEERFIELD – It started with the flu, and turned into a hospital stay. There were terrible headaches and weakness. Just walking was a chore.
All at the worst time for Luol Deng and the Bulls.
The All-Star forward made an appearance at the Bulls’ practice facility Thursday, but it was clear from his drawn appearance and measured tone that he might not be able to make it back in time to play in the Bulls’ rugged postseason series against the Miami Heat.
Looking for reinforcements for their depleted roster, the Bulls are going to have to wait a while for Deng.
“I don’t know. I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do,” he said. “I just, I haven’t done anything.”
Deng joined his teammates for the film session covering Wednesday night’s 115-78 drubbing by the Heat that evened the series heading into Game 3 at the United Center tonight. He also got on the court and took a few jumpers, but that was all he could handle.
“Still day to day. He’s feeling a little bit better,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
While the Bulls were taking stock of their injuries – Kirk Hinrich had a second MRI on his injured left calf, and Derrick Rose was the “same,” according to Thibodeau – Miami was bracing for the first game of the series at the United Center. It’s the Heat’s first trip to Chicago since a 101-97 loss March 27 snapped their 27-game winning streak.
“We know that they call it the ‘Madhouse on Madison’ for a reason,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, a Chicago-area native. “The fans are very loud. At the end of the day, once that settles down, it’s the game of basketball and you have to execute your game plan. It’s going to be the little things that wins games for your team.”
The Heat did everything right in Game 2, running away from the Bulls after a surprising 93-86 loss in the series opener Monday night. A 62-20 run was more than enough to wipe away the residue from Miami’s first playoff loss, and MVP LeBron James had only three points in the tidal wave – a scary statistic for the Bulls, and there’s more.
The Game 2 blowout was the 41st time that an NBA team won a playoff game by 35 or more points. In the previous 40 occasions, the team on top of the blowout went on to win the series 36 times.
It’s a good sign for Miami, but James knows firsthand how it can turn around in a hurry. He was playing for Cleveland when the Cavaliers lost 108-72 to Washington in a 2008 playoff game and went on to win the series.
“It’s just one game,” he said. “Even though you got dominated the game before and you didn’t do things right, it’s still one game. You don’t get two wins if you win by over 30 or over 40. You only get one game. They’re back in their home building, where they’re very good and we have to be ready for it.”
It looks as if the Bulls will be without Deng, Hinrich and Rose once again. Thibodeau said the team was awaiting the results of the latest MRI for Hinrich, who hasn’t played since Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against Brooklyn on April 27. Rose hasn’t played all year, but no one has ruled out what would be an emotional return for the 2011 NBA MVP.
Even with the depleted roster, the Bulls managed to win Game 7 on the road against the Nets and then steal home-court advantage against Miami. Bouncing back against the Heat could be a matter of just keeping their cool after they were whistled for six of the nine technical fouls during the emotional Game 2, leading to ejections for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.
“We got to do better. We got to do a much better job of that,” Thibodeau said. “Can’t get sidetracked. We know how it will be called. We’re not going to get calls. We just got to be tough, mentally, physically, emotionally. We got to be a lot stronger.”
Asked what he meant about not getting the calls, Thibodeau responded: “It’s just the way it is, you know. We didn’t allow that to impact us in Game 1 and I thought we allowed it to impact us in Game 2.”
Deng watched Game 2 on TV, and said he thought the Bulls let it get away from them. He said the trip to the practice facility was his first time out of the house since a “scary” couple of days.
Deng became sick during the Brooklyn series, missing practice May 1 and Game 6 the next day. He felt so bad that he went to the hospital, where he had a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.
“After that, I just didn’t respond well,” he said. “Started having severe headaches. Was struggling to walk. Started feeling really weak. Started throwing up. ... I couldn’t control my body really, and because of that I lost a lot of weight.”
Doctors recommended a blood patch to help heal the damage from the spinal tap, and Deng had to stay in the hospital for more than a day until his white blood cell count came down enough to allow him to have the second procedure. He dropped about 15 pounds, but is feeling a little better now and said he’s proud of how the team has played without him.
“Guys are going out there and just playing together,” he said. “Just seeing them do it together is really the main thing. ... Watching it, obviously, is a lot harder when you’re not out there, but just seeing your teammates play that hard and fighting together.”