ADVERTISEMENT

Portland Trail Blazers hold final practice before summer league: ‘Should be a show in Vegas’

ADVERTISEMENT

TUALATIN — Tuesday’s summer league practice ended with Didi Louzada hitting a game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing as the buzzer sounded.

“I was so happy when I made it,” Louzada said.

So were his Portland Trail Blazers teammates, who let out a collective roar that exemplified the level of camaraderie and cohesion this group has displayed through four practices. Whether it’s singing happy birthday to teammates or the constant words of encouragement delivered in the midst of intense competition, these Blazers are having fun. And bonding.

ADVERTISEMENT

That should increase even more on Thursday at 9 pm, when the Blazers play Detroit in their first game of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. The session will last until July 17.

Blazers assistant coach Steve Hetzel is the head coach for the summer session. He said Sunday that the team’s energy and focus had been at a high level and the execution improved from the first to the second practice. Hetzel did not speak to the media Tuesday, but Greg Brown III, Keon Johnson and Brandon Williams said practices have been productive and fun.

Adding to the spice has been the play of rookie Shaedon Sharpe.

The main focus of summer league for most Blazers fans will likely be on the performance of the man their team drafted with the No. 7 pick during last month’s NBA draft.

Every player who has spoken to the media since practice began Saturday has praised Sharpe.

“He has a bright future,” Trendon Watford told reporters on Sunday. “The boy is good. It seems to him that it requires no effort.”

Watford had a moment on Saturday where he grabbed a defensive rebound, came out in transition and finished the play with an alley-oop pass to Sharpe down the left side for the dunk.

“He’s an extraordinary athlete,” said Johnson, who said his goal this summer is to show how much he has improved since the season ended. “He can mark the ball, but he can also defend. I see why we recruited him. I feel like he and I are very similar in a lot of different ways.”

They certainly are when it comes to athletics. Between Johnson, Sharpe and Brown, the Blazers will have three of the best athletes on any team in the summer league. Brown, Johnson and Watford — and point guard Brandon Williams — saw plenty of action late last season after the franchise sat down some stars for the season and traded others.

Brandon Williams

Trail Blazers shooting guard Brandon Williams speaks to the media after summer league practice. July 5, 2022. Aaron Fentress/The Oregonian

Watford said on Sunday that the cohesion those four developed over the season was gradually returning this summer.

“We’re just trying to freshen up some things and get our chemistry back,” he said.

Leading the pack of high flyers will be Williams, who worked his way into a two-way deal last season.

“It should be a Vegas show,” Williams said.

One who hopes to lead. Williams said she learned a lot last season from Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons about how to orchestrate and teach. Williams averaged 12.4 points per game in 24 appearances with 16 starts during his first NBA season. He also had 3.9 assists. Passing and plays are areas where Williams can improve, but he said he will continue to play his game.

“Take what the defense gives you,” he said. “I think that’s just the main focus that coach has been talking to me about.”

He said one of his strengths is getting into the paint and then making good decisions on the ball, whether that means scoring or finding teammates.

“Summer is a good time to do that and a good time to show what I can do,” he said.

Brown said his focus has been on getting better as a defender because he knows it’s a great way to get on the floor with coach Chauncey Billups. Last summer, his head was spinning as he adjusted to the pro game, but this summer he said he feels much more confident.

“I changed mentally,” he said. “Great mindset. Big mindset shift on how I see things. How to practice. How to be in practice.”

As for the rookies, both are coming but have a long way to go, according to Hetzel.

“For Jabari and Shaedon, their heads are spinning from the language and the actual coverage and the execution of the plays,” Hetzel said. “But we tried to repeat it so much that then they could just play basketball.”

How the players are used will be determined by how the session progresses. Hetzel said the goal is to win games. But at some point, he will sit down with GM Joe Cronin and Billups to determine whether to move forward or back down.

SUMMER LEAGUE SCHEDULE

9 p.m. Thursday vs. Detroit Pistons (ESPN)

7 p.m. Saturday vs. New Orleans Pelicans (ESPN2)

Monday 8:00 p.m. vs. New York Knicks (ESPN2)

6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14 vs. Houston Rockets (NBA TV)

All games will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting NBAEvents.com.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories

sniloans