Bulls lose to Knicks, 113-105
Robin Lopez led with 29 points, and JaKarr Sampson added 22 points on eight-of-10 shooting
The Bulls finally got the big, 6-8 kid from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, and he didn't disappoint with 22 points and seven rebounds in his Bulls debut Monday, though it was a 113-105 loss to the New York Knicks.
That's right, the Bulls finally got JaKarr Sampson on the floor.
"Just trying to fit in," said the versatile forward who attended LeBron James' high school. "I didn't want to do too much early. Just try to feel the game out. My teammates got me the ball in the right position, slashing. Just coming in with the mindset I'm going to be aggressive and play my game, but also fit into the team concept."
It was another loss, though another impressive debut from a former Windy City Bulls player, Sampson being Windy City's high scorer this season, averaging 21.1 points and 9.2 rebounds. He follows fellow Windy City teammate Walt Lemon Jr., who had 19 points, six assists and four steals in his Bulls and NBA debut Saturday. Though Lemon had a more difficult time in New York. Lemon started in the first game he ever played in Madison Square Garden, and seemed a bit uncertain with six points and five assists on three of 12 shooting.
"I thought Walt had a lot of learning moments," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought he had some plays he could make, that he will make. I thought it being his first start at the Garden, a big moment, I thought he competed. He'll get better and he'll grow."
That's what it continues to be about for this Bulls team, now 21-57 after losing to the 15-62 Knicks. Again, it was primarily a lineup of former minor league players with Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen all out with health issues. Boylen said there still was no determination with four games remaining in the season whether any will play again. Markkanen and Porter have been declared out for the season, though Markkanen went through a pregame shooting drill with a heart monitor.
"Some of the guys won't be here; they know that, we know that," Boylen acknowledged of a starting lineup with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden Jr., Shaquille Harrison, Lemon and Robin Lopez. With Lopez a free agent, it's possible no one who started Monday will be with the team next season.
"But in this moment," said Boylen, "our job is to help them and support them and coach them as hard as we can; that's what I am going to do."
Once again, the Bulls were taken out of the game early, trailing 39-17 after the first quarter as the Knicks riddled the Bulls with three pointers, five for 11 in the first quarter and 18 of 38 for the game. The Bulls made just four three pointers in the game, a deficit from the three-point line of 42 points.
"Poor first quarter start," acknowledged Boylen. "We got down 28 (midway through the second quarter), but we battled. We got some different lineups out there, some guys flying around out there, hustling around. We forced 17 turnovers (to just seven) and tied the boards. They shot the heck out of the three. Happy for JaKarr. I thought he battled, played hard, got downhill. Rolo (Lopez) had one of the better games of his career. He would have had his career high (30) if he makes those last two free throws. There was some positives. The lesson is we have to start better. I thought their half court pace to start the game was better than ours and I thought their ball movement to start the game was better than ours. We kind of figured it out after that."
Lopez on his April 1 birthday led the Bulls with a season-high 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting, featuring a tip dunk and his personal favorite one-handed hook shot. Lopez missed his career-best game with 31.1 seconds left missing two free throws.
"I was pretty aware," Lopez said sheepishly afterward. "All too aware."
He paused a bit with a smile and added, "Dems the breaks."
Ryan Arcidiacono was efficient with 14 points, Selden had 11 and Luwawu-Cabarrot 10, though the latter two combined for two of 11 on threes. No other starter attempted a three. Sampson made one of two as he developed his perimeter shooting under Charlie Henry this season with Windy City.
It was announced Monday Henry will join former Bull coach Fred Hoiberg on the U. of Nebraska staff.
"The lesson is we have to start better. I thought their half court pace to start the game was better than ours and I thought their ball movement to start the game was better than ours." - Coach Boylen
Sampson joined the Bulls on a 10-day contract to finish the season with the shortage of big men that had Selden starting at power forward against the Knicks' pair of seven footers.
Sampson got the second half start in place of Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Sampson had 13 second-half points and helped turn that 28-point Knicks lead blowout into a five-point game with just under eight minutes left. But the Knicks scored six straight points and the Bulls couldn't get much closer.
The Bulls now play the Washington Wizards Wednesday before returning to meet the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday in the United Center.
But it's another encouraging story in a big time second homecoming for the former St. John's U. journeyman who's played in more than 100 G-league games along with brief stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings.
Sampson, who was in training camp with the Bulls this season and whom Boylen said will probably get some starts in the remaining four games, showed quickness and elusiveness, traits one also needs taking his kind of journey, which this season included a month playing in China between stints with Windy City. It's the life of the basketball gypsy. Another place where you follow the money.
"I went to China for a month to replace an injured player (Donatas Montiejunas). It was a good situation over there," said Sampson. "It helped my game being over there because when you are in China all eyes are on on you. They want you to score and if you lose it's all on you. So that definitely helped my game, too. Windy City was big. Coach Charlie and I got real close, so shout out to him and his organization, his coaches. He definitely coaches hard and I feel I got better playing for him. He wanted me to shoot more threes, got me to and I feel I have confidence now to thanks coach Charlie."
Though Sampson believed his season was over with Windy City's playoff loss last week to the Knicks' affiliate. Sampson was packing up his Hoffman Estates apartment and was just about to leave when he got the call from the Bulls.
And then makes eight of 10 shots in his first game.
"The one thing I like about JaKarr is he just competes," said Boylen. "You throw him out there at three, you throw him out there at four, you throw him out there at five, he figures it out. He gets downhill, he embraces contact, collision. He's just a tough, hard playing dude. When you have him, Shaq (with a team-high 10 rebounds) and Archie out there, those are some tough guys. I like that lineup."
Sampson also has come a long way and not just from Asia. Undrafted in 2014, he was considered more of an undersized, defensive oriented power forward. But with the evolution of the NBA and his game, he's moving into that shooting/slashing role like former Windy City player Alfonzo McKinnie, now a regular with Golden State.
"It's night and day for me (since coming into the NBA)," Sampson said. "I'm showing I'm not just a defender. I can score the ball, put the ball on the floor and make some plays. I feel like I'm showing that and becoming a more compete player. I feel I am learning as I get older. This is always a tryout, if not for the Bulls another team. So I have to go out and play hard and show everybody what I've been working on. The NBA has changed a lot, especially at the four spot. So adding that to my game and being able to knock that shot down consistently, that's big time."
Sampson was a pillar of strength for the Bulls Monday even as their season continues to crumble.
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