Windy City Bulls fired up about clinching playoff spot

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
 
 
Updated 3/16/2019 5:01 PM

There was ice all over the floor in the Windy City Bulls locker room Saturday night, clear evidence of a water jug being emptied.

When coach Charlie Henry met with reporters a few minutes later, though, it was apparent he either got lucky or did a nice job of dodging the water, because his shirt was no more than slightly damp around the shoulders.

 

There was reason to celebrate, though, as Windy City clinched a spot in the G-League playoffs for the first time in the franchise's three-year history with a victory over Delaware at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

"We're really excited, obviously, we have a really competitive group of guys and they obviously want to keep things going," Henry said.

The G-League playoffs can be short-lived, since it's single elimination until the finals. Right now, Windy City has the five seed in the Eastern Conference. If they can get to No. 4, the Bulls would host a first-round playoff game. The top two teams in each conference get byes. Windy City has three games left in the regular season and one last home game next Saturday.

Center JaKarr Sampson, who has played in 169 NBA games, was glad to celebrate a spot in the G-League playoffs.

"It means a lot," he said. "Any stage I'm on, I want to win. I'm a competitor. It's really big for coach, because he really cares. He really cares about getting better every day and I feel like I've been getting better while I've been here."

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This season included a remarkable turnaround and a couple of interesting individual journeys. Windy City started the season 5-12 and lost former NBA point guard Tyler Ulis to hip surgery.

Walt Lemon Jr., a former Bradley point guard, was planning to spend the season as a Boston Celtics two-way player and have a chance to contribute to a Finals contender. But the Celtics released Lemon early in the season, the Bulls traded for his rights and the rest is history. The Chicago native averaged 20.4 points, 8.6 assists and turned Windy City into a winner.

"Them allowing me to come in and play my game, just to be another piece to help the team win, I'm grateful for it and I'm humbled by it," Lemon said. "But me not being the only reason but one of the reasons why we're in this position is definitely a good feeling. It shows that I bring worth to the team."

Lemon and Sampson both scored 30 points against Delaware. The 6-foot-8 Sampson, who played at St. John's, often brought the ball up the court himself and was able to knock down plenty of jumpers against a smaller lineup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sampson's season took a detour in December when he headed out to play in China. He said the plan all along was to come back, since he joined the Shandong Golden Stars to fill in for an injured player, former NBA forward Donatas Motiejunas.

"I left and they kept racking up wins," Sampson said. "I came back and we kind of did the same thing. We really didn't miss a beat. I felt like while I was gone, I could see the change in the team. We had grown so much and were definitely a better team."

On Saturday, the Bulls didn't get much from two-way players Rawle Alkins and Brandon Sampson, who combined for 4 points. But they've gotten a variety of contributions all season from a couple of former big-time college players, C.J. Fair from Syracuse and Mychal Mulder from Kentucky, as well as rookie 3-point shooter Kaiser Gates, who like JaKarr Sampson was in training camp with the NBA Bulls.

"It's really a credit to all the guys," Henry said. "Even when we were struggling, we didn't have the mood or the energy of a team that was struggling. Guys were excited to come into work and build good habits."

Even if the playoffs last just one game, Windy City has reached new territory.

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