By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) – Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has avoided a suspension for Game 1 of Chicago’s second-round series against Cleveland after his blow to Milwaukee’s Michael Carter-Williams in a series-closing win Thursday.
Dunleavy spoke with the NBA about the incident, in which no foul was called. He was retroactively assessed a flagrant 1 foul, Yahoo Sports reported, but the important news is he’ll be available for Monday’s Game 1.
“I’m not surprised,” Dunleavy said. “I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, so for that reason, no surprise on my end. Looking forward to Game 1.”
Dunleavy was fine with the call being upgraded to a flagrant foul. He largely took a no-big-deal approach in regards to the chippy play against the Bucks, saying he didn’t believe Giannis Antetokounmpo should be suspended for the start of next season after he decked Dunleavy into the first row of seats with his shoulder
Antetokounmpo was ejected with a flagrant 2 foul. The NBA announced a one-game suspension for him after Dunleavy spoke to the media.
“I don’t think he should be penalized,” Dunleavy said. “He was penalized during the game – he got a flagrant foul, we got a free throw, he was ejected. That seemed fair to me.
“I got no issues with the guy. A nice kid.”
Bulls prep for LeBron at power forward
With Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, the Bulls fully expect star LeBron James to log more minutes at power forward.
“Without a doubt,” Bulls reserve forward Taj Gibson said of James playing power forward. “He played the four last game we played them in Cleveland. He’s guarded me a lot at the four. I see them doing a lot of different matchups. He will play a lot of the four.”
What’s that mean for the Bulls? Coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t tip his hand in any way, but Gibson’s performance could take center stage. Simply put, Chicago can’t expect a Pau Gasol-Joakim Noah pairing to chase more agile players around when Cleveland goes small.
“Taj is always important,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the one thing you can’t overlook, what he brings to our team, his defense, his rebounding. He’s probably our best low-post defender. He’s our best guy at moving his feet. Offensively, it’s hard to put a small on him. He can overpower you inside.”
While Jimmy Butler will remain the primary defender on James, Gibson is ready to battle him in the post and chase to the perimeter when needed. Gibson has been tasked with guarding James at times over the years when his Cleveland and Miami teams have chosen to go small.
Ideally when the Cavs go small with James at power forward, the Bulls want to make them pay by punishing them down low. It’s a role Gibson is suited for.
In Chicago’s only win against Cleveland this season, Gibson played 32 minutes off the bench on Feb. 12, recording 13 points and six rebounds.
“We don’t have to go small when someone does; we can,” Thibodeau said. “Mike and Jimmy can handle playing small. And we can stay big and have a rebounding advantage with Taj and Jo and what they can do defensively that allow us to do both.”
After three years of being short-handed come playoff time, the Bulls find themselves in the position of being the healthy squad while their foe is facing a challenge. In addition to Love being out, the Cavs will be without starting guard J.R. Smith for the first two games because of a suspension.
“That’s the irony there,” Dunleavy said. “The storyline has flipped.
“We’ve been in that situation before, so we have empathy for them. They’re a really good team. They lose a great power forward and probably fill it in with a guy who’s the best power forward in the game when he plays it.”
The opportunity at hand isn’t lost on the Bulls.
“It’s an awkward feeling,” Gibson said. “Every year we’ve been having a lot of injuries. We’ve had guys down. But we mostly haven’t made excuses, we went out there and we never gave any ifs, ands or buts. However the basketball gods have it, we have to take advantage and play to the best of our ability.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.