The two scenes were only separated by a few steps, but their respective tones were worlds apart.
Deng’s voice barely rose above a whisper as he affectionately talked about teammate Chris Bosh, who released a statement a day earlier indicating his medical condition has improved and that he was positive about returning to the court this season.
“Always,” Deng said when asked whether he would be concerned about Bosh’s health should the 31-year-old forward be able to return at some point. “The first thing as a friend is you want to see him healthy. Basketball is just what we do. We all love to play basketball, but people forget we have lives after this.”
Deng could barely be heard over the shouting and laughter as teammates were intentionally trying to jam a basketball so forcefully that it would get wedged between the side of the rim and the backboard.
If they’ve accomplished nothing else, the Heat have mastered the process of balancing the seriousness and silliness of this season. As the uncertainty of Bosh’s condition and status continue to linger, the Heat have eased some of the tension by responding with their best stretch of performances this season.
That compartmentalizing continued with Friday’s 118-96 victory in Chicago, where the Heat got 29 points and nine assists from Goran Dragic, a career-high 22 points from rookie Josh Richardson, the 29th double-double of the season from Hassan Whiteside and a versatile defensive spark from Deng to overwhelm a Bulls team that was without injured guards Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.
One way or another, the Heat’s path always leads back to Bosh. At 38-27, Miami has now won nine of 12 games since the All-Star break, when Bosh was sidelined with an undisclosed medical condition that might cost the team its leading scorer and best 3-point shooter for the rest of the season. Bosh indicated in his statement he does not currently have “deep vein thrombosis,” or the condition known as blood clots. Bosh said he continues to explore treatment and preventative measures. Last season, Bosh missed the final 30 games after the All-Star break when a blood clot was found to have traveled to his lungs.
But the combination of Bosh’s meticulously veiled statement on Thursday and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s delicate response on Friday largely created more questions than answers. Spoelstra said his coaching staff and trainers will resume workouts with Bosh next week in Miami, but he also repeatedly said there remains no timetable for a decision on whether Bosh might be cleared to return this season.
“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated Friday. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”
The odd timing of the Heat’s current three-game trip is that it ends with Saturday’s game against the Raptors. Exactly a month has passed since Dwyane Wade joined Bosh for All-Star weekend festivities in Toronto, where Bosh was initially diagnosed with what the Heat disclosed as a strained calf.
Moving on hasn’t been easy for the Heat, who have benefited from the combination of relatively soft schedule, the transition to a more up-tempo offense, the buyout acquisition of Joe Johnson and the rapid development of role players who have seen their production spike over the past four weeks.
The natural inclination is that the Heat would have struggled mightily to make the playoffs without Bosh. But a month into his absence, Miami is now just a half-game out of third place in the East standings.
“In this locker room, we’ve got a job to do,” Wade said Friday. “I don’t ever want to get to a point where we’re looking over our shoulders for Chris to come back. If he walks in the locker room and is ready to play on game day, we’re all going to jump up and cheer and be happy in that moment. But at this time, we have to forge forward and keep focusing on what we need to do.”
No one in the franchise is closer to Bosh than Wade. The two live in the same neighborhood, share the same agent and are two of the three remaining players on the roster who were members of the Heat teams that advanced to four straight NBA Finals and won consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013.
And no one carries a heavier burden through this ordeal than Wade, who is in daily contact with Bosh through his health ordeal off the court, while also fighting through nagging ailments to remain available for his team at a critical time of the season. On Friday, Wade played after he sat out of the morning shootaround with a bruised thigh. He has also been dealing with lingering shoulder soreness for months.
But there was relief on multiple fronts entering the weekend. Wade said Bosh’s first public update on his health was “great for the fans to get an opportunity to hear from him a little bit.” Wade said it was also good because “hopefully, we can stop getting asked the questions” about his teammate’s condition.
“I know what Chris is going through with this process,” Wade said. “I’m just happy he feels good and he’s not dealing with what he dealt with last year.
"Last year was hard because, physically, what he was dealing with, seeing him in the hospital, knowing how close it was to his lungs. That was tough. But now, he looks like me. He’s walking around, he’s sweating, he’s working out and he’s doing different things.”
Those things lately have involved participating in film sessions, instructing teammates and pushing through some level of workouts at Miami’s home arena. Deng said Bosh could have stayed away and focused exclusively on his health and spending time with his wife and young children.
“Chris has been working out. He’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in, even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”
Bosh let his team know that late Friday night, when he posted a note of encouragement to the Heat on social media for bouncing back from Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee by beating the Bulls.
While Bosh has been away, others have embraced the task of contributing a little more.
Dragic is pushing the pace and attacking more consistently. Whiteside has become more of a focal point on offense to pick up Bosh’s slack. Deng has transitioned relatively smoothly from small forward to Bosh’s power forward spot. Spoelstra has further fast-tracked the development of young players in Richardson and Justise Winslow.
Of course, the Heat aren’t better without Bosh.
But they are bearing up remarkably well with the difficult dilemma.
Wade said Bosh “is doing all he can” to research how he can live a healthy life and still be a professional athlete. More space and time are needed.
“This is not a sprained ankle or thigh bruise -- this is something serious,” Wade said of Bosh’s condition. “He’ll do his homework, and if he decides -- and the Miami Heat decide -- it’s the right thing for him to come back, we’ll accept him with open arms.”
Until then, those arms will embrace both the seriousness and silliness of this season.