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James hit a 3 early in the fourth, but didn’t score another point. Deng was a big reason _ but not the only reason _ he struggled.

He had help from Gibson, Noah and even Omer Asik. The Bulls were quick to rotate and plug any gaps, making it tough for James and Wade to get to the rim.

“(Deng is) very active and long,” said James, who averaged nearly 32 points for Cleveland in the first round against Chicago last year. “I think (coach Tom Thibodeau) has definitely helped him a lot with their defensive schemes. It’s not ever one guy that you have to worry about.

“Just put me out with any individual, I feel like I can get around them. When you have a guy that has the backups that they have behind him with Taj Gibson and Noah and guys that are helping him out, also, it definitely helps him a lot. He’s very active.”

Deng is also a big reason why the Bulls led the league with 62 wins and matched their best record since the 1997-98 championship season.

Hailed as a budding star four years ago when he averaged 18.8 points, he signed a six-year extension that summer, but two injury-riddled seasons left many wondering if he was worth it.

He’s been healthy the past two years and is a key piece for Thibodeau on both ends, averaging 17.4 points while often guarding one of the opponent’s best players.

Thibodeau, in fact, openly endorsed him for NBA’s All-Defensive Team. Deng received votes from the coaches but did not get first or second-team recognition.

“He’s always worked at his game consistently,” general manager Gar Forman said. “He’s always worked on his body. A week ago, we’re in Atlanta and it’s 7:30 in the morning after we had played the night before. The team wasn’t practicing until 10 or 11. I went down to get a workout at like 7:30, he’s down there stretching and taking care of himself. He’s a pro.”

Note: Dwyane Wade was impressed by Gibson’s dunk on him in Game 1, and so was his son, apparently. “I was playing my oldest son Zaire on his nerf rim & he dunked & said Gibson while screaming,” Wade posted on his Twitter account.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects third quarter scoring in 15th paragraph.)