After A Challenge By The Coaching Staff, Trent Jr. And Simons Respond Versus Rockets

by Casey Holdahl
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LAS VEGAS -- After the Trail Blazers suffered a blowout loss to the Pistons in their first game of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League, the coaching staff challenged a number of players, most notable Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons, to bring a better effort in their second contest. 

By all accounts, that challenge was accepted and eventually conquered. 

The sophomore backcourt duo combined to shoot 11-of-13 from the field and 9-of-10 from three in the first half on the way to leading the Trail Blazers to a 97-87 victory versus the Houston Rockets Sunday night at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. 

“I think that 20-point loss (in the opener) was kind of a slap in the face for us, so I was happy with the way that these guys responded,” said assistant coach Jim Moran, who is handling head coaching duties for the Trail Blazers in Las Vegas. “We challenged (Trent Jr.) today. We watched film with him and we just challenged him, we said ‘Hey, you’ve got to be better. You’ve got to be better offensively and you’ve got to be better defensively.’ I thought he really took that message to heart and he came out here and he played well. It was the same message to Anfernee. It’s their team, they’re the Blazer veteran guys and this is their team.”

The Trail Blazers are now 1-1 in Las Vegas Summer League play with at least three more games to go in the desert. 

After going just 3-of-12 from the field and finishing a -10 in the opening loss to the Pistons, Trent Jr. looked like one of the best players suiting up in Las Vegas Sunday night. The 6-6 guard entering his second season out of Duke was dialed in from the jump versus the Rockets, going 7-of-8 from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from three for 21 points in the first half to go with five rebounds and three assists. 

“We had to pick it up,” said Trent Jr. “Coach Jim Moran said that as well: pick it up on the offensive end and the defensive end if we want to win. So that’s what me and Anfernee did tonight. I think we bounced back pretty well.”

Behind Trent Jr. and Simons, who put up 14 first-quarter points on 5-of-7 shooting, the Trail Blazers finished the first half on a 15-3 run to take a 16-point lead into the intermission. 

The Rockets, thanks in large part to the play of power forward/center Isaiah Hartenstein, outscored the Trail Blazers 26-19 in the third quarter to cut the lead to nine going into the fourth. But Trent Jr. played the role of the cooler in the fourth, scoring 10 points in the quarter to finish with a game-high 31 points while leading Portland to the 10-point victory. 

“We got embarrassed yesterday, that’s not Blazers basketball at all,” said Trent Jr., who also finished with six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 25 minutes. “We came out, we played Blazers basketball and it showed. Coach challenged us and that’s a great thing about this coaching staff. They challenge you to be better and we were that tonight.”

Simons finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three, four rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes. Devin Robinson scored in double figures for the second-straight game with 10 points to go with three rebounds in 22 minutes. 

Rookie Jaylen Hoard, signed as a two-way player by the Trail Blazers prior to the start of summer league training camp, went 5-of-8 from the field for 10 points to go with five rebonds and two assists in just under 19 minutes. 

“I just try to play like I belong,” said Hoard, who finished the game a +10 off the bench. “I feel like I belong on the court with everybody else and I just come out here, try to do my job. Bring energy, hit open shots, create, that kind of stuff. I can do that, create for myself and my teammates.”

Nassir Little added seven points, five rebounds, an assist and a block in 22 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers have Monday off before returning to COX Pavilion to take on the Utah Jazz. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. 

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