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Trail Blazers Fourth Unit Falls to Kings

The Blazers feature plenty of odd lineups as almost all their starters rest.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers took the floor against the Sacramento Kings for Game 2 of their preseason schedule Monday night...or at least they did in name. Whether you can call a team without Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington “Trail Blazers” is open to debate. It certainly wasn’t any version we expect to see once the regular season starts.

Nonetheless, every player who took the floor tonight is trying to make an NBA rotation. They deserve respect. If you’re looking for snark and lamenting, this isn’t the recap for you. Portland didn’t look great, but nobody expected them to. They ran plays and (mostly) ran hard, and that’s all anybody was looking for. If you’re reading it in this recap. it’s either good or important.

Portland ended up losing 107-93. The shot 47.9% from the field but notched only 17 assists against 27 turnovers. That’s pretty much how the game went.

Here are the highlights.

If there’s such a thing as effortless effort, Larry Nance, Jr. embodies it. (I suspect if Lamar Hurd gets ahold of that, he’ll use it. It sounds like a Hurd-ism,) Nance, Jr. plays differently than most of his teammates, going and getting the ball instead of letting it come to him. He’s not just making plays; he sees them before they happen. If he can hit the kick-out three with consistency, good luck keeping him off the floor.

Nance, Jr.’s play contrasts somewhat with Nurkic’s, who still seems to be taking a measured approach to his time on the floor. Every once in a while he looks brilliant. Other times he doesn’t move from a four-foot diameter circle on defense. Yes, it’s preseason. I think everybody remembers how Nurk started last season, though. Knowing what’s on the line for Portland this year, those moments are hard to watch.

Anfernee Simons had a clear run at the point guard spot in this game. He was the only guaranteed player capable of playing the position. He has not lost his shooting instinct. His deep looks were calm and beautiful. He only hit 1-9, but they all looked like they should have gone. He also made nice passes laterally from the high-middle areas of the floor. Getting downhill with consistency, making the pass in traffic, and seeing plays develop are all works in progress. He’s such an instinctive off-ball player. It’s hard to know whether converting him into a playmaker is the right thing or letting him blossom where he’s planted would be a better move. He scored a team-high 24 but had only 1 assist in 32 minutes.

Simons HAS tightened up his defensive game, though. The change in philosophy may help with that. The Blazers are better able to help each other on the perimeter against opponent screens. That benefits Simons.

Dennis Smith Jr. looked like an experienced, competent point. He made offensive plays high and low, both scoring and finding the easy set-up for teammates. He and Marquese Chriss are making strong arguments for inclusion on the main roster. He had 18 points and 7 assists in 26 minutes.

If we’re looking for improved defense from the new-look Blazers, the search is still on. They made decent plays from time to time, but rhythm, coordination, and sustained effort are all lacking. You wouldn’t expect cohesive play from the collection of players in uniform tonight, but the question still lingers: How long? It reverberates every time an opponent gets an uncontested look from deep and cans it.

Anything we missed? The comment section is the place to add your own observations!

Boxscore

The Blazers face the Phoenix Suns Wednesday at 2:00 PM, Pacific for their penultimate preseason contest.