Trent Jr. And The Blazers Stay Undefeated In Las Vegas By 'Sharing The Sugar'

by Casey Holdahl
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The Portland Trail Blazers were already one of the hottest three-point shooting teams through two games of summer league play, but in their final game of preliminary play Tuesday afternoon, they did something Las Vegas is know for: They got even hotter.

In their third game in four days, the Trail Blazers shot better than 50 percent from behind the arc on the way to defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-89 to improve to 3-0 at the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League.

“We’ve been going a really good job defensively and guys get out and run,” said assistant coach Jim Moran, who is handling head coaching duties for the Trail Blazers at summer league. “Wade gets guys the ball, gets them involved. When you’re touching the ball every other possession or every third possession, you stay engaged, you stay involved. And I think that our guys being on the defensive end knowing ‘Hey, if I get out and run, someone is going to find me and throw me the ball,’ that really helps guys get in the flow of the game. And when they do get the ball for an open shot, it’s not the first time they’re touching it. So the confidence is there and I think all our guys have been shooting it really well.”

There’s been John Jenkins, who went 3-of-3 from three in Tuesday afternoon’s victory and is now 5-of-6 from deep in Las Vegas. And Jake Layman, who followed up a 4-of-5 performance from three in Sunday’s victory versus the Hawks by going 3-of-4 from deep on the way to scoring 15 points in just under 28 minutes.

And then there’s Gary Trent Jr., who the Trail Blazers acquired during the 2018 NBA Draft from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for two second round picks and cash consideration. The 6-6 guard who played one year at Duke came went 4-of-8 from three and 7-of-17 from the field to finish with a game-high 20 points of the bench Tuesday afternoon, an encouraging sign for a player who was acquired in large part because of his ability shooting from distance.

“We’ve got some great plays, some great sets that can set up guys that knock down open shots, clean looks coming off screens,” said Trent Jr. of how he and the rest of Portland’s summer league team has managed to torch the nets from deep in Sin City. “That’s big ups to the coaching staff and the offense that we run.”

While the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff is certainly putting their players in a great position to knock down shots, Trent Jr. showed up in Portland already with the makings of a preeminent shooter. He shot 40 percent from three during his lone season at Duke, setting the freshman record for made three-pointers in a season with 97.

“You’ve got to go out there and play, play hard,” said Trent. “Shooters shoot, so that’s what I do.”

Though he could probably stand to shoot just a bit more, at least if the opportunity should arise. Tuesday’s win was his first game at summer league with multiple made three-pointers, which is partially due to the fact hasn’t been gunning away from deep as some young guards tend to do at summer league. Instead, Trent Jr. and the rest of the team have emphasized playing unselfishly, resulting in the team shooting better than 48 percent from three in their first three games.

“You’ve got to move the ball, you’ve got to share the ball or guys will get mad,” said Trent Jr. “If everybody is touching it, everybody’s getting to share the sugar, everybody will be happy. Just continue to share the ball like we are and we’ll be successful.”

If Trent Jr. and the rest of the Trail Blazers continue to “share the sugar” once tournament play starts, their goal of getting back to the championship game, where they lost last year to the Los Angeles Lakers, becomes much more attainable.

NOTES: Wade Baldwin IV continued his stellar play in Las Vegas Tuesday afternoon, going 6-of-12 from the field for 16 points to go with nine assists, five steals and two rebounds in 30 minutes. Caleb Swanigan went just 2-of-10 from the field but managed to finish with 12 points to go along with nine rebounds, five assists, five turnovers and two steals in 27 minutes.

Zach Collins did not play in Tuesday's victory versus the Spurs due to a sprained right ankle. His status for Portland's first game of the summer league tournament is not yet known.

The Trail Blazers' matchup in the opening round of the tournament has yet to be determined. According to the schedule, first round games will take place on both Wednesday and Thursday.