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updated: 1/22/2014 11:11 PM

Bulls roll right past old buddy Deng

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  • Tne Bulls' Joakim Noah embraces former teammate Luol Deng after the Bulls' victory over Deng and his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

      Tne Bulls' Joakim Noah embraces former teammate Luol Deng after the Bulls' victory over Deng and his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
    Associated Press

 
 

To be fair, Luol Deng was outnumbered Wednesday night.

He wanted to beat his former Bulls teammates, but there were eight or nine guys on the other side who didn't want to lose the first meeting since Deng was traded to Cleveland.

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Deng hit just 2 of 11 shots from the field and scored 11 points as the Bulls handled the Cavs 98-87 at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Bulls got another big night from D.J. Augustin. Starting at point guard in place of Kirk Hinrich (right hamstring strain), Augustin scored 27 points for the second straight game.

Taj Gibson, starting for Carlos Boozer (calf), added 26 points while hitting 11 of 15 shots, while Mike Dunleavy finished with 22 points and Joakim Noah grabbed 18 rebounds.

"It felt weird," Gibson said of playing against Deng. "There was tension before the game because we weren't talking. It's like Thibs (Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau) said, 'We love him, but we're going to go knock him on his butt if he tries to score. After the game, we're going to be friends."

The Bulls shot 52.9 percent as a team, compared to 37.5 percent by the Cavs, so it's a wonder this game was even competitive in the fourth quarter. The Bulls didn't put it away until Dunleavy hit a 3-pointer with 38.1 seconds left to make it 96-87.

"It was a tough night for every single guy on our roster," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "They just handed our lunch to us."

Even though he didn't play well, Deng still was the biggest story of the night. The Bulls (21-20) improved to 7-2 since sending the nine-year veteran to the Cavs on Jan. 6 for since-released center Andrew Bynum and three draft picks.

"It was strange," Deng told reporters after the game. "I tried to really play the game within myself. They played good D. I missed shots. I'm not happy with my performance. That's a good defensive team. We've just got to keep growing. We've got a lot of stuff to work on as a team. I really believe that we can get there. We've just got to lock in.

"In terms of me, I could have played better. It hurts, but it would have hurt less if we got the win -- even if I shot the way I shot or played the way I played."

Just before the opening tip, Deng walked over and hugged Thibodeau and greeted the rest of the coaching staff. Earlier in the day, he reflected on his years with the Bulls and the trade.

"I have nothing against (anyone)," Deng said, according to bulls.com. "What happened, happened. I love Chicago. I've been there 10 years. There's no bad blood or anything."

Deng did make a pointed comment about how a team like San Antonio stuck with its winning nucleus of players, while the Bulls did not. Of course, Derrick Rose's two knee surgeries ripped the heart out of the Bulls' core group, which finished with the NBA's best record in 2011 and '12.

"You've got to become an organization that believes in your guys," Deng said. "I still really believed that we could do it. I really believed that with Derrick coming back, (we were) still young enough. It's not as if we were at the end of our career."

Asked about returning to the Bulls someday, Deng joked that maybe they'll offer him $30 million over three years when he becomes a free agent this summer. Shortly before the trade, the Bulls made Deng a take-it-or-leave-it offer for that amount, knowing that he would turn it down.

Deng has plenty to worry about in Cleveland. Besides teaching the young Cavaliers how to win, he still needs a place to live and find a way to change his NBA phone app. Deng hasn't been able to change his favorite team from the Bulls to Cavs.

"It's really annoying when you get updates about the Bulls on your phone," he said. "I'm getting all these Joakim Noah double-double updates. I'm trying to get rid of that."

Better put the phone away tonight then.

•Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls.

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