The Portland Trail Blazers bounced back after a Summer League opening 93-73 loss by beating the Houston Rockets 97-87. Portland’s offense found open shooters and created favorable opportunities throughout the victory. Defensively, the Blazers’ rotations and communication improved over Saturday’s performance. Portland held Houston to only 39.2 percent shooting.
Providing analysis directly from Las Vegas, Blazer’s Edge contributors Miles Custis and Tara Bowen-Biggs (aka Team Mom) exchanged their thoughts on the Blazers’ result against the Rockets.
After a poor performance against Detroit, Gary Trent, Jr was the star for the Blazers on Sunday. What did you see from him that you liked?
Miles: Trent was able to generate attempts from his favorite spots and when he shot he didn’t miss. He did most of his damage from beyond the arc where he made seven of his eight attempts, but he was also able to get inside for layups without forcing things. Outside of his scoring, Trent distributed the ball well when the defense collapsed on him. He finished the game with five assists.
Tara: Trent appeared to handle the ball with a lot of confidence and was frequently the person who brought it up the court. Between his 31 points and five assists, Trent was the heart of the offense tonight. It was nice to see him score in a variety of ways. While he was shooting well from outside, he mixed it up by going to the hoop. Gary Trent Sr, who was sitting nearby, sounded happy with his son’s big night.
Anfernee Simons wasn’t able to take over in Portland’s first game. What did you see from him against Houston?
Miles: Simons again was able to get his shot off cleanly, and he did a better job of knocking them down tonight. Both of Portland’s lead guards were able to take advantage of Houston’s small rotation—5-foot-9 Chris Clemons and 6-foot Chris Chiozza—with some solid post-ups. Simons again struggled facilitating. Right now, he isn’t able to deliver a clean entry pass when a big man has a mismatch inside. He ended up with six turnovers, several of which were from bad entry passes to the post. If Simons is going to run the offense for Portland’s second unit, his passing has to get better.
Tara: Simons found his own shot against players both bigger and smaller than him, and also paid attention on defense. But his playmaking is still a work in progress. When Pat Connaughton played at summer league he marshaled his teammates like a floor general: pointing, talking, motioning with his whole body for his team to pick up the signals. While Simons appeared more vocal than he did on Saturday night, he doesn’t yet have the same signals for his teammates that Connaughton did.
How would you assess first-round pick Nassir Little’s second game?
Miles: Little provides really nice athleticism for Portland. He had a couple explosive dunks—one from a baseline cut and one on a put-back dunk. He didn’t do well creating his own shot, however, and often seemed uncertain what do with the ball. He shot (and missed) a fade away in the key after getting a smaller player switched on to him when he should have gone up strong. His defense remains solid, and he plays with a lot of effort. If he can improve his shooting (he did hit one three-pointer tonight), he could find some minutes.
Tara: Little crowds his opponents, grows even bigger by waving his arms, and uses his rear end to clear out anyone on his back. On defense and when rebounding he is big and aggressive but under control. While he only scored seven points tonight, he was much more efficient with his shots. Little went 3-5 from the field including a 1-2 mark from three.
We didn’t get to see Mike Daum in the first game. Did he make an impression on you against the Rockets?
Miles: I was disappointed that South Dakota State star Mike Daum didn’t play in game one. Daum averaged 25.3 points per game his senior year while shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. Daum came into the game on Sunday and provided some nice leadership. He was the most vocal of Portland’s defenders. The lineup of Daum, Simons, Trent, Little, and Jaylen Hoard helped the Blazers win the second quarter 27-17 and push the halftime lead to 16.
Tara: In the second quarter, Daum came in and started barking orders on defense. Along with a Jackrabbits-centric cheering section, Daum became the loudest presence in the arena. This woke the defense up and pulled them all together for the second and third quarters. This was the best that they have looked through two games. Outside of Daum, Devin Robinson continued to provide energy with highlight-worthy dunks.
The Blazers face off against the Jazz on Tuesday.