Keys to the Game: Bulls at Knicks (04.01.19)
Walt Lemon Jr. still is trying to wrap his mind around his debut with the Chicago Bulls.
Lemon Jr., who grew up on Chicago's South Side and starred at Bradley, made an immediate impact Saturday in his first game with his hometown team. He had 19 points, six assists and four steals in 31 minutes on the floor.
Now, the 26-year-old will get ready for game No. 2 when the Bulls visit the New York Knicks on Monday night. Lemon Jr. spent several years playing overseas and in the G League before a five-game stint with the New Orleans Pelicans last season, followed by his promotion to the Bulls this month.
"I can't even describe the feelings," Lemon Jr. said to reporters after his first Bulls game. "Being in this building, putting on the jersey, going out there and playing on the floor and actually playing OK for my debut as a Bull -- words can't describe it."
The final five games of the regular season will be all about development for Chicago (21-56), which has known for months that a postseason berth was not in its future. The Bulls have lost four in a row and nine of 11, and several players including forward Lauri Markkanen have been shut down for the rest of the season because of health reasons.
That has created late-season opportunities for players such as Lemon Jr., who hope a strong finish to the 2018-19 campaign leads to a spot on an NBA roster next fall. Lemon Jr.'s intensity became apparent in his Bulls debut as he drew a double technical along with Raptors guard Kyle Lowry at the end of the third quarter.
"He's an All-Star," Lemon Jr. told the Chicago Tribune when asked about the incident with Lowry. "I respect him. I'm trying to do what has to be done. But I'm a dog. When I'm on the court, I don't care who you are. I'm not backing down from nobody."
That includes New York (14-62), which has the NBA's worst record and is hoping for the No. 1 pick in the draft to change the course of the franchise. The Knicks have lost six in a row and 14 of 15.
Emmanuel Mudiay led the Knicks with 24 points in the team's most recent contest, a 100-92 loss to the Miami Heat. Luke Kornet finished with 17 and Kevin Knox chipped in 16.
New York will finish out its final six games without guard Frank Ntilikina, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season because of a nagging groin injury. The 20-year-old averaged 5.7 points and 2.8 assists per game in his sophomore campaign.
"After the (first game back), I knew the groin was worse than before," Ntilikina said in comments published by the New York Daily News.
This is the second of three meetings between the teams. The Bulls held on for a 116-115 road win in double overtime in the first matchup on Nov. 5 thanks in large part to a 41-point performance by Zach LaVine.
The final meeting between the teams will be April 9 in Chicago in the second-to-last game of the season for both clubs.
--Field Level Media
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