Luol Deng hasn't been with the Cavaliers very long, but he has a unique opportunity Wednesday night -- the chance to show Joakim Noah what's cool about Cleveland.
That was a question Noah asked during the 2010 playoff series between the Bulls and Cavs. There's nothing wrong with an entertaining quote now and then, but these days Noah chooses his words carefully.
"Yeah, I'll probably see him for dinner or something like that," Noah said of the impending reunion with his longtime teammate.
Regardless of what happens before tipoff, the main course will be the game itself. It will be the first time Deng has ever played against the Bulls during his 10 seasons in the NBA. The teams square off Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena, the last meeting between these teams in the regular season.
"When I go out there, it will be weird, because it's guys I've practiced with for years and I was just with them not too long ago," Deng told reporters in Cleveland. "In that aspect it will be weird.
"I can't really answer the emotional part. When the ball goes up, I'm not just going to start crying and hugging the guys and all that."
The Bulls did not practice Tuesday, so they talked about the Cleveland game in the aftermath of Monday's overtime win against the Lakers. This much was clear -- friendship won't mean anything once the ball goes up.
"There will be a lot of emotion. (But) we're fighting for position, fighting for playoffs spots. You've just got to throw that out the window," Taj Gibson said with a laugh. "I'm going to try to crack him."
Noah was so distraught when the trade went down Jan. 7, he refused to speak to the media for four days. Now, it's mostly business.
"It's going to be strange. I've been through a lot of battles with Lu. That's my brother. I love him," Noah said. "But when that ball goes up, he won't be my brother for those 48 minutes."
Jimmy Butler, another of Deng's close friends on the team, figures to spend most of the night guarding Deng. Knowing these guys, they might match up for the full 48 minutes.
"It's going to be good to see him and better to compete against him. Lu's great. He did a lot of things for the Bulls," Butler said. "He's an opponent now, but he's still a brother. So we've still got to win this game. I think you'll see both of us smile a lot."
Deng offered similar sentiments from the Cavaliers practice facility.
"When the ball goes up, there's going to be nothing better for them than to beat me and vice versa," he said. "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."
Deng left Chicago as the Bulls' fourth all-time leading scorer, behind Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Bob Love. He passed Jerry Sloan a couple of weeks before the trade.
The Bulls received three draft picks in return, along with roughly $20 million in savings by taking on Andrew Bynum's non-guaranteed contract and releasing him. They made the trade mostly because they didn't expect Deng to re-sign as a free agent this summer.
Since joining the Cavs, Deng has averaged 18.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, while shooting 49 percent from the field. In his third game with Cleveland, Deng went 5-for-5 from 3-point range and scored 27 points in a road win over the Lakers.
Since the trade, the Cavaliers have gone 4-3, while the Bulls are 6-2. That's a little misleading because Cleveland went on a five-game Western road trip and has played a tougher schedule than the Bulls. With a 15-26 record, the Cavs have to make up some ground in order to reach the playoffs, even in the weak Eastern Conference.
When Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was asked about Deng, he didn't reminisce as much as send a warning.
"I know how fierce of a competitor he is. I know he's going to be trying to beat us, and we're going to be trying to beat him," Thibodeau said. "Then after the game we're going to visit.
"I have a lot of respect for him, all the stuff he did for us, what he did for me personally. Friendship aside, we're coming up there (and) we're going to be ready."
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