Luol Deng has flown under the radar this season for the Miami Heat but he is just focused on putting the team’s needs first as the playoff charge continues.
Deng has become somewhat of a forgotten man since leaving the Chicago Bulls to join the Heat in free agency in 2014, with uncertainty over whether his heavy minutes totals in Chicago (averaging over 37 minutes per game in the regular season for five straight years) had taken their toll. After a solid but unspectacular 2015 season and a slow start to this year, memories of his best days with the Bulls were becoming hazy.
But Deng has thrived since the All-Star Break, with Miami unleashing a faster-paced small ball offense. No stranger to the playoffs, he torched the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, including a 31-point night in game one.
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Deng is quick to point out that the team comes first, though. With Miami blessed with an array of talented scorers, from Dwyane Wade to Goran Dragic to Joe Johnson, he is ready to play whatever role head coach Erik Spoelstra has in mind for him.
Against the Toronto Raptors, a big part of that assignment is stopping sharp-shooter DeMar DeRozan from taking over the game. DeRozan has hit just 39 percent of his shots over the first two games of the series, with Deng's length proving to be a factor.
“I’m the type of player that’s always going to take what the other team gives us,” Deng explained. “I’m still going to try to do what I can do to be effective in the game and if in this series it needs to be defensively, then it’s defensively.
“There might be nights where I’m shooting the ball more but my whole mindset is that it’s a team and we’ve got so many guys that can score."
STRETCHING THE FLOOR
On the offensive end, Deng has had a quiet but efficient series against Toronto so far, averaging 11 points and shooting 50 percent from the floor to help his team get a split on the road.
And he continues to relish the challenge of playing as a small ball power forward in Miami's faster-paced, athletic starting group - a change of role that has added a new dimension to his game.
“It gives me a different look, it keeps me moving,” Deng said. “It gives other teams a lot of trouble and gives us speed as a team.”
With the series locked at one apiece, the Heat will need more of Deng’s magic when game three tips off on Saturday.