Mike Dunleavy Jr. has quietly become one of the Bulls’ most reliable scoring options and overall consistent players during his debut season in Chicago.
Saturday night’s 91-84 win over the Hawks at the United Center was evidence, as the veteran sharpshooter scored a team-high 20 points. Teammate Joakim Noah said that Dunleavy’s matchup with predecessor Kyle Korver was a motivational factor.
“He’s consistent, man. He’s always the same. Never too high, never too low, very consistent player and he was huge tonight,” said the All-Star center. I think he took this matchup with Korver pretty seriously. White America!”
Dunleavy insisted that wasn’t the case, but did acknowledge that his increased comfort level with fellow wings Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng back in the lineup, as well as his health over the course of the season have helped his cause.
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“One, knock on wood, but staying healthy. I’ve been able to practice and play every day, which has been good, and being around this league a long time, 12 years, a lot of things happen. You know that throughout the course of the season, so you just don’t let it affect you too much and now, with the guys back, Jimmy and Lu, I’m kind of in my natural role coming off the bench. I’m more comfortable with that,” he explained. “At this point, we’re a few games under .500, [so] anything to get a win. I don’t really get into personal matchups. Tonight in the fourth quarter, guys did a pretty good job of finding me off of screens and stuff, and we were able to score just enough points to win.”
Bulls injury updates
Kirk Hinrich was kneed in his thigh by ex-Bull Elton Brand in the first half, causing him to wear a wrap on the sidelines. While the veteran floor general’s minutes were limited for the remainder of the game, he did return and told reporters that he shouldn’t miss any action.
“I’m going to back there and check. He got nicked up a little bit,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I want to check with Fred [Tedeschi, the Bulls’ head athletic trainer]. Hopefully, he’s fine.”
Meanwhile, although power forward Carlos Boozer missed his first game of the season because of right-knee soreness, the coach was optimistic in general about his team’s present health.
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“I think the big thing is getting everyone back and healthy. Hopefully Carlos will be short-term, which I believe he will be,” Thibodeau said. “This is the first time we’ve had the group relatively whole. You feel good about the bench play. I think Jimmy is playing very well right now on both ends. That’s a big plus for us. Lu is still working his way back. I thought he scored efficiently early. Yesterday, he practiced well. When you practice well, you play well. It’s really that simple. Sometimes, people don’t understand the de-conditioning that occurs when you don’t practice. You have to stay sharp. If you get a win, you can’t feel too good about yourself. You have to be ready for that next one. They keep coming.”
Gibson, Augustin fill in capably
Taj Gibson, the Bulls’ top reserve all season, filled in for the injured Boozer and came up with 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots as the team’s starting power forward, earning praise from his coach.
“You can’t say enough about Taj. He’s tough as nails. Whatever you ask him to do, he does,” Thibodeau said about his prized pupil. “You can start him, bring him off the bench, guard everybody, rebound, gives you great effort, pure heart, plays for the team, plays to win, disciplined. Practices every day, practices hard. Great practice player.”
D.J. Augustin played the bulk of the minutes at point guard because Hinrich was hobbled and another solid performance off the bench, going for 11 points and seven assists in over 28 minutes of play. Dunleavy, a well-traveled player himself, is impressed with how Augustin has blended in with the Bulls since being acquired off waivers earlier in the season.
“That’s not easy. He’s done a pretty good job, coming in, learning all the plays, finding a little rhythm for himself,” Dunleavy said. “He’s really provided a boost for us, he’s been great and he’s only going to get better with more confidence.”
Thibodeau chimed in: “With Kirk and DJ, it gives you great flexibility. They can play together. They can play with both units. Kirk, his defense and the way he can run a team is invaluable to us. DJ is just going to get better and better. He’s still learning his teammates and what we’re doing. But he has a great feel for the game. He’s very smart and I think he’s getting comfortable. But we need everybody.”