Tonight’s game between the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trailblazers will see an interested crowd of British fans watching intently as Luol Deng and Joel Freeland will lock horns for the first time.
Both players decided to opt out of playing for Great Britain this past summer at Eurobasket and for Freeland, who struggled in his rookie season for Portland, his decision to not play in Slovenia has worked wonders for him. The 2.08m forward worked hard on adapting to the style of basketball in the NBA and as a result, he has seen his minutes increase.
“I had to find my identity in this league. Playing overall solid basketball has given me the opportunity to get on the court,” Freeland said.
Both players though have spoken of their desire to return to the Great Britain set-up next summer for the Eurobasket 2015 qualifiers, along with Galatasaray forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who also missed Eurobasket in order to work on his game over the summer.
“I’m always free to help the national squad,” Freeland said. “The only reason that I took the summer off last year was for personal reasons. I felt like that I had to try further my career any way I could and I thought if I played for the national team I might be taking step backwards as the style of play is completely different to the NBA.”
Freeland is part of a Portland side currently on an eight-game winning streak, heading into their showdown with the Bulls, who themselves were on a winning run of five games, before last night’s 97-87 loss in Denver against the Nuggets.
Deng is enjoying a solid start to the season for Chicago as dust has settled on Derrick Rose’s anticipated comeback. Deng is averaging 16.9 points a game and has been called upon to make game-changing contributions, especially against the Pacers and against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Going into the game, Chicago are one of only three teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record at 6-4. The Trailblazers are riding high, winning ten of their first 12 games with only the San Antonio Spurs bettering them in the West.
With tip-off being at 03:30 GMT, the audience in the UK will probably need a day off, should they plan on watching it live on NBA League Pass.