Deng gets himself, Bulls back on track

CHICAGO -- What the Chicago Bulls’ bench was going to provide Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks was anyone’s guess.

What Bulls forward Luol Deng was going to provide was predictable. After a rare off game in Monday’s collapse to the Milwaukee Bucks, there was little chance Deng would have a repeat performance.

While the bench did finally contribute, it was Deng again who returned to his usual self and led the way to a 101-78 win over Mavericks at the United Center.

Deng sparked the Bulls from the start, scoring 12 first-quarter points and finishing with a game-high 22 on 8-of-17 shooting and six rebounds. In Monday’s loss, Deng was held to 10 points. It was just the second time all season he scored less than 14.

“You can’t say enough about this guy,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I mean, he’s tough. He’s physically tough. He’s mentally tough. He’s a winner. Does whatever you ask, never complains. Puts the team first, and you need that.

“That’s the best type of leadership you can have. This is not something that’s new. That’s something he’s done the three years I’ve been here. He’s just a winning player. He’s played very well with the starting unit, played very well with the bench.”

Because of Deng’s versatility, Thibodeau often relies on him to play major minutes and play with the starters and the bench. Since Thiobodeau’s arrival, Deng has led the team in average minutes played every season. He averaged 37.1 in 2009-10, 39.1 last season and is averaging 40.3 this season. He played 47 minutes in Monday’s loss.

On Wednesday, Deng got bit of a breather because the bench played so well and the team built a sizeable lead in the second quarter. He played just 35 minutes against the Mavericks.

Either way is fine by Deng.

“I felt great,” Deng said. “It’s just really how the game went. We got a big lead, got to rest in the second quarter. It’s just how the game goes. I’m not really worried about how much I’m playing, just try to play as hard as I can out there.”

Deng’s teammates respect him for that effort and try to match it.

“Luol is our leader,” Bulls backup forward Taj Gibson said. “He understands what we have to do. He understands he’s going to play a lot minutes. What we’re trying to do is try to give him a little support, especially with Jimmy (Butler), Marco (Belinelli) and guys who can come in and give him some help because he’s guarding the best player night in and night out, playing a lot of minutes, running a good offense for us. We’re just trying to help him the best we can.”

The bench did help Wednesday, and Deng was pleased.

“It’s always a plus to have a bench that comes in and holds the lead or builds the lead,” Deng said. “Teams with a great bench have an advantage. As a season goes on, there’s so many games, it really helps a lot. But those guys have been working hard in practice all year, so it was a matter of time before it clicked.”