Deng fighting through empty tank

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Luol Deng might look the worse for wear right now, but Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to fault him for it.

In the month of March, Deng has been held under his season average for points (16.1) six times, including the five-point effort he gave in 26 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. That game came on the heels of the whopping 50 minutes he played in the overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday.

In the rebounding category, Deng has been held under his 6.5 season average seven times in nine games this month.

Statistics aside, it is visually clear that Deng has been dragging.

“If you look at guys in this league that have played say 60-something games, they’re all moving the same way right now,” Thibodeau said. “I’m not going to judge Lou on one or two games. I’m going to look at what he’s done the entire season. That’s the way you look at it. Not everyone is going to play great every game. That doesn’t happen in the NBA.”

It remains to be seen if Thibodeau is willing to manage Deng’s minutes better in an effort to get him a second or even third wind at this point. The 26 minutes against Portland was a sign that he is taking it into consideration.

Until Deng can get his legs back under him, there are still ways he can be a major contributor.

“Missing shots, that’s part of the game, but when you’re not shooting well are you helping your team in other areas?” Thibodeau said. “Are you playing great defense? Are you executing? Are you doing your job? Are you making plays for others? Are you recognizing who has a good matchup? Are you recognizing who has a hot hand? Are you playing to your team’s strengths? Are you covering up weaknesses? Those are the things that go into winning.”

In those areas, Thibodeau has been pleased with his All-Star.

“The one thing you can count on with Lou is to do his job to help the team execute and to help you win,” Thibodeau said. “That part, he’s had a great season.”