Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng missed his third game in a row due to a torn ligament in his left wrist on Friday night as his team faced the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center. Speaking to Bulls.com's BullsTV before the game, the eighth-year veteran refuted reports that he's planning to return for Sunday's highly anticipated, nationally televised road contest against the Miami Heat and said he will most likely sit out another week-plus to continue rehabilitating.
"It's just a day by day thing," Deng said. "I would say right now [I am] probably about a week away, maybe more. I really don't know, it's hard to tell. It's definitely a bad injury, but I really believe that I'll be back soon and doing everything I can right now just to make sure I'm back soon enough."
Deng has been able to do a little bit of dribbling and shooting with his left hand, but the injury has clearly been painful for the 26-year-old. He suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' 95-89 home victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday night. After that game, Deng brushed it aside and said he would be "fine."
Dating back to the 2009-10 season, Deng had played in 108 straight regular-season games.
"I really don't know where that came from," he said of the talk that he would come back Sunday in Miami, where the Bulls will start their season-long, nine-game road trip. "I've never really put an exact date on it. I just know that I've got to do whatever I can [to return]. [With] the fact that I'm avoiding surgery, I've got to make sure I rehab and get this down so it doesn't keep coming back. I don't want it to be a reoccurring problem all year, where I play a few games and take time off. That's what we're really trying to avoid right now."
The Bulls have missed the 6-foot-9 Deng's presence in the starting lineup and they haven't been the same, dynamic squad without him. They were defeated by the Indiana Pacers 95-90 on Wednesday night and coach Tom Thibodeau cited a lack of energy and intensity as a reason why his team was dealt its first home loss of the season.
"More effort," Thibodeau told reporters after the game, when asked about what troubled him most about the loss. "That [fourth-quarter] effort's got to be there from the start of the game.
"I think that getting ready to play is a big part of this league. I think you've got to be ready to play every night. As soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you're going to get knocked on our ass. That's the way it is."
Deng had been playing at an All-Star level this season, averaging 15.9 points, 7.5 rebounds in 38.3 minutes per game while giving the Bulls a strong presence on both ends of the court on a consistent basis. Since Thibodeau took over as coach a season ago, he has relied on Deng as much as, if not more than any other player on his roster, including star point guard Derrick Rose.
Over the past few years, Deng has spoken at length about how much playing in every single game means to him. Obviously, he wants to rejoin his teammates, and he would have loved to do that Friday. But he understands the importance of being as healthy as possible for the playoffs while playing in this condensed, 66-game season, which has proven to be an injury-plagued one for NBA teams around the league.
"It's really improving at a very fast rate, and that's really what we want," Deng said of his injury. "And hopefully I'm out there soon. It's tough sitting down, I don't want to do that, and hopefully I don't do that for long."
Meanwhile, Taj Gibson (ankle) returned from a three-game absence on Friday, although Rip Hamilton was sidelined because of a right thigh bruise. Veteran swingman Kyle Korver started in place of Hamilton.
"Nothing," Thibodeau told reporters before the game when asked about potential changes in the Bulls' game plan minus Hamilton. "Next guy steps in. And we play the same way: Defend, rebound, low turnovers, inside-out, share the ball."
The Bulls led the Bucks 79-68 after three quarters of play.