CLEVELAND (AP) - Luol Deng misses his close friends in Chicago. The Bulls seem to be getting along fine without him.
D.J. Augustin scored 27 points in a start for Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson matched a career high with 26 filling in for Carlos Boozer as the Bulls improved to 7-2 since trading the popular Deng with a 98-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Chicago reached the season’s mid-point at 21-20, not where many expected the Bulls to be sitting after dealing Deng.
The two-time All-Star was a non-factor in his first game against his former team, which traded him for draft picks on Jan. 6. Deng went just 2 of 11 from the field and scored 11 points in 40 minutes.
“It was strange,” Deng said. “It’s the Cavs versus the Bulls and not so much about me. In terms of me, I could have played better.”
But the Bulls aren’t fading away as coach Tom Thibodeau has them playing with their usual defensive tenacity.
Deng’s not around, but the Bulls remain as tough as always.
“It’s one of the things I respect about our team,” Thibodeau said. “They respond to every challenge. They have a lot of heart. They’re playing together. Each day they have the right approach. If someone’s out, the next five get in there and get the job done. We’re short-handed. We understand how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Kyrie Irving scored 26 to lead Cleveland, which has dropped the first two games of a five-game homestand. The Cavs have lost all of their momentum after going 3-2 on the road.
“We’re not making any excuses here,” Irving said. “We’ve got to pick it up.”
Although they were missing two starters in Boozer (calf) and Hinrich (hamstring), the Bulls had more than enough to hold off the Cavaliers.
Making just his fourth start, Gibson scored 12 in the third as the Bulls opened a 71-62 lead entering the fourth.
Dunleavy’s 3-pointer extended Chicago’s lead to 12 in the opening minute of the final quarter, but the Cavs fought back behind Dion Waiters and pulled to 84-81 on his 3. However, Dunleavy scored again, Noah made a layup and Augustin buried a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 91-81 lead.