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Anfernee Simons Dominates, Blazers Come Up Short

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Anfernee Simons scores 35, but suffers an ankle injury as Portland loses a close one to the Utah Jazz.

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers lost a close matchup with the Utah Jazz 97-93. The Blazers took the lead 93-92 on an Anfernee Simons jumper with 1:21 to go, but Utah’s Stanton Kidd hit a three to put the Jazz up 95-93. Portland had a chance to tie or take the lead with the final possession, but Simons, who ended the game with 35 points on 13-18 shooting, had his shot at the rim blocked. Simons appeared to injure his ankle on the play. He stayed down for a while, but walked off on his own power.

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.

Anfernee Simons’ work as a facilitator has been shaky at best through the first two games. Did anything change on that front against the Jazz?

Miles: Simons didn’t do too much to facilitate the offense in term of passing the ball. However, he turned into a pretty great one man show. He started the game off by hitting five consecutive three pointers and ended the half with 21 of Portland’s 44 points. I was actually pretty impressed by his defense. He consistently stayed in front of his man and didn’t get beat. Simons locked down Utah’s Miye Oni, who scored 14 and 11 points in his previous two games. Oni shot only one for six (his one make coming when Stokes was switched onto him from a screen).

Tara: Simons played like an experienced shooting guard. His 35 points looked effortless whether he was creating his own shot or finishing off a pass from someone else. He recorded a blistering 72.2 percent from the field including 6-7 from three while staying with his man on defense. A sweet Euro-step in the fourth quarter had Zach Collins leaping out of his court side seats. I would be happy to see him concentrate on these two skills (shooting and defending) before trying to facilitate more.

Gary Trent Jr. was the star in Portland’s previous game. How would you assess his effort in today’s game?

Miles: Trent ended the game with a decent looking stat line: 12 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. However, he shot 4-15 from the field and seemed to be forcing up shots unnecessarily. Steve Dewald commented recently on the podcast that when Trent and Simons play together they can look similar to Lillard and McCollum, not in terms of overall talent, but in how they take turns having the hot hand. In this game Trent did not do enough to defer to Simons who clearly had the hot hand. GTJ was 0-6 in the first half, and each of those misses was a missed opportunity for Portland to get Simons another look. Trent played better in the second half, forcing things less and doing a better job of finding the open man.

Tara: We were sitting behind the Blazer bench and I observed a lot of communication between Trent Jr and the coaching staff. As he struggled to hit shots, he actively sought out their direction. He didn’t get frustrated and instead used the professional experience of his coaches to work himself through the slump. He found other ways to impact the game outside of scoring.

Nassir Little has the physical profile of a player ready for minutes. What is the most promising thing that you saw from him today that suggests he has the skills to match his profile? On the flip side, what about Little’s readiness concerns you?

Miles: The most promising thing about Little is his effort and athleticism. He had the play of the night with a two-handed dunk over Utah’s 7-foot Josh Sharma. His overall offensive game, however, is concerning. He isn’t afraid to put up open three-points, which is good, but he has not been able to knock them down. Little has hit on only one of his seven three-point attempts so far in Summer League. He will have to improve in that area if he hopes to see many minutes during the season.

Tara: Little played a lot of his minutes alongside Jaylen Hoard and the two appeared to be in sync for much of that time. He seems to have an awareness of the rest of the court outside of his own man. When they get to full speed games in the regular season this will probably get harder, but his ability to keep an eye on his teammates movements (especially on defense) is promising.

Devin Robinson and Mike Daum have both received praise as non-contract players on the roster. Did either one help their cause today?

Miles: I was hoping we would see more of Daum today, but he only played 9 minutes. He continues to communicate well on defense and Portland appears to play well when he is on the course (his plus/minus was +5 in his limited minutes). Daum was known as a scorer at South Dakota State, but he hasn’t really had any opportunity to showcase his shooting skills during his time on the court in Summer League. He did get fouled shooting a three, and hit all three foul shots, but that was his only offensive contribution.

Tara: Robinson started off the game missing two three-point shots before returning to what appears to be his bread-and-butter, finishing at the rim. His dunks are entertaining and so are his celebrations. With Skal Labissiere sitting out Summer League, Robinson has been the best inside finisher among the big men.

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The Blazers play the Thunder on Thursday in their final pre-tournament Summer League game.