Mike Dunleavy was disciplined by the NBA for his actions against the Milwaukee Bucks, but he wasn’t suspended, his chin-check to Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams was merely upgraded to a flagrant 1 foul.
No word on whether his heart was in his throat when he spoke to the league Saturday morning, considering he had incidents with Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks forward was suspended for the first game of the regular season next season for his tackle on Dunleavy while the Bulls forward was shooting a 3-pointer.
“I’m not surprised, wasn’t expecting anything to happen. Not surprised on my end,” Dunleavy said. "I talked to the NBA about, there's a bunch of stuff that went on last game. It's part of protocol. You gotta talk to the league. I spoke with them.”
He said no hard feelings to Anteokounmpo, who was retaliating against Dunleavy, nailing him in the face during the same sequence.
“I don't think he should be penalized, he was penalized during the game,” Dunleavy said. “Foul, flagrant foul, ejected, free throws. Ejected. Seems fair to me. I don't think it should be anything worse than that.”
Dunleavy’s in, which means the Bulls will play with their starting five for the first time against the Cavaliers in Game 1 on Monday. The irony of the Cavaliers being without Kevin Love and the Bulls being at relative full strength wasn’t lost on the Bulls forward.
“Now that I think about the, the irony there, I guess it's flipped,” Dunleavy said. “I guess there's sympathy or empathy? Empathy because we've been there before. They're a really good team, and they lose a great power forward and fill in with a great power forward when he plays it. They'll be really good.”
The “fill-in” isn’t exactly a backup, but LeBron James, the game’s best player who has made a habit of knocking the Bulls out of the postseason, no matter his address. Whenever the Bulls run up against this No. 23, it’s a cruel reminder of what their former No. 23 used to do to other franchises for nearly a decade.
“He's just a go-getter,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “There's so many different options. You can play him at the four, play him at the five at times, and he's like a point-forward. He brings the ball up and pushes it hard. He really knows how to create for other guys. He makes his teammates better on every team he's been on.”
Gibson could wind up seeing plenty of time on James when James plays at the power forward. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t tip his hand as to what strategy he’d use guarding James, or by proxy the Cavaliers if they go small. Usually, he tries to keep Jimmy Butler on James, but one has to wonder how realistic is it to expect Butler to carry a considerable offensive load while trying to stop the game’s best player.
“We’ll see how it unfolds,” said Thibodeau with a smile. “We can (match up with James). We’ll see.”
Presumably, that’s where Gibson can play a larger role — if he isn’t preoccupied with keeping the active Tristan Thompson away from the offensive glass
“Taj is always important; that’s the one thing you can’t overlook, what he brings to our team,” Thibodeau said. “His defense, his rebounding, he’s probably our best low-post defender. He’s our best guy at moving his feet.”
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Thompson grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first meeting of the season between these two teams in late October, a Cavaliers win in overtime. It was one of three Cavaliers wins in the four meetings this season, and James didn’t show any signs of slippage against the Bulls, averaging 28.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 48-percent shooting this season.
“Yeah, we were so focused on LeBron,” Gibson said of Thompson’s night. “In the playoffs, it only takes that one guy to put you over the top. He's been shining well.”
However the Cavaliers play the lineups, Gibson will be a huge asset, and his defensive versatility could be key in whether the Bulls can steal one of the first two games in Cleveland.
“I love it, I love it,” Gibson said. “I love the fact that Thibs has confidence in me to guard multiple positions. In Milwaukee he basically let me switch one through five, and it's fun having your coach behind you and your teammates behind you, knowing you can guard multiple positions.”