Luol Deng initially tried to dismiss first matchup against his former team – Bulls-Cavaliers at 7 p.m. tonight – as just another game.
Eventually, he got into the spirit, though.
“I’m sure they’re going to go after me as guys that I’m close with, friends,” he said. “But when the ball goes up there’s going to be nothing better for them than to beat me and vice versa. I can’t wait to beat them. So it will be interesting. It’s a game that definitely whoever wins … you’re going to be hearing from whoever wins a lot.”
Joakim Noah didn’t sound like he needed any prodding to get up for this game. Via Bryan Crawford of NBC Chicago:
‘‘It will probably be weird,” Joakim Noah said. “It will probably be strange, but I still want to kick his ass. I love Luol. He’s my brother. But when that ball goes up, he’s not going to be my brother.”
A January matchup between 20-20 and 15-26 teams doesn’t exactly inspire the most interest. I guess, in this Eastern Conference, there are playoff implications, but that’s hardly a reason to watch this game over, say, Dallas-Toronto, which is on at the same time.
But Deng facing his former team – and all the passion that goes with it – is plenty of reason to tune in.
Noah was obviously hurt when Chicago traded Deng, and Deng had to feel scorned when the Bulls didn’t offer him a big enough extension to ink him. These two can channel some bad feelings to motivate themselves.
But they can also channel good times. Deng was in just fourth season when Noah was a rookie. In many ways, they grew up together as they helped the Bulls rise in the Eastern Conference.
However Deng and Noah handle tonight, as long as they treat it as the special occasion it is, it will be worth watching the emotions unfold before, during and after the game. The NBA and sports are about drama, and this one offers plenty.