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Bulls beat Cavs 98-87 in first reunion with Luol Deng

CLEVELAND OH - JANUARY 22:  Joakim Noah #13 Chicago Bulls gives Taj Gibs#22 high five during break actiagainst ClevelCavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 22: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls gives Taj Gibson #22 a high five during a break in the action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on January 22, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Updated: February 24, 2014 1:28PM

CLEVELAND — Luol Deng has half a season left to teach a group of perceived selfish underachievers how to play team basketball with the hope of crawling into the playoffs.

The Bulls have half a season left to keep the naysayers from shaking their heads.

Tank? Tank this.

It became obvious Wednesday night that Deng has the much-tougher task.

D.J. Augustin led the way with 27 points to go with a career-high 26 from Taj Gibson as the emotional reunion between the Bulls and former teammate Deng ended in a 98-87 Bulls’ victory in which they dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers in crunch time.

‘‘I’ve never been through something like that before,’’ Deng said afterward. ‘‘It was strange. But it’s the Cavs vs. the Bulls — it’s not so much about me.’’

No, it was about Deng, as were the last few days leading up to the game at Quicken Loans Arena.

When Deng was traded to Cleveland on Jan. 7 after he walked away from the Bulls’ final take-it-or-leave-it offer, his departure was supposed to mark the downfall of a franchise that had lost Derrick Rose (right knee) for the season and was basically giving away a free-agent-to-be for draft picks.

All the Bulls (21-20) have done since the trade is go 7-2, while the Cavs are 3-4 with Deng.

And while there were hugs and handshakes at the start of Deng’s first game against his former team, at the end of the night he was 2-for-11 with 11 points and a loss.

Was he forcing things because of the emotion?

‘‘Not really,’’ Deng said. ‘‘If I was forcing things, then I would have shot 30 shots. I tried to really play the game within myself. They played really good defense; I missed some shots. I’m not happy with my performance — that’s a good defensive team, but we’ve just got to keep growing.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on as a team. I really believe we can get there. We just have to lock in. But in terms of me, I could have played better.

No matter what, 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.’’

A bigger blow than the loss had to be that it came when the Bulls were again short-handed without Kirk Hinrich (hamstring) and ­Carlos Boozer (calf).

Gibson continues to make an argument for being the best sixth man in the league.

‘‘It felt weird because it was tension even before the game,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We wasn’t talking or nothing. It was exactly like how [coach Tom Thibodeau] said: We love [Deng], but we’re going to go knock him on his butt when he tries to score. After the game, we can be friends.’’

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