Everything almost fell into place Friday night for the Trail Blazers. Almost.
With a 3-1 record and a +6.3 point differential, Portland went into the last day of preliminary round play at the Las Vegas Summer League in fifth place, just behind the cut line to qualify for the tournament semifinals. If they were to have an opportunity to defend their 2022 Las Vegas Summer League tournament championship, they’d need quite a bit of help.
And they almost got enough. A number of teams that started Friday at 2-1 -- Oklahoma City, Indiana, Miami, Los Angeles and San Antonio -- lost their fourth games and even those teams that did win to get to 3-1 -- LA Clippers, Dallas, Detroit -- didn’t so by large enough margins to surpass Portland’s point differential, which is the multi-team tiebreaker at Summer League.
So the Trail Blazers remained in fifth going into the penultimate game of the preliminary round: a tilt between the Suns and the undefeated Jazz. If Utah, 3-0 going into Friday’s contest, lost, Portland would jump into fourth, thus qualifying for the semifinals along with Cleveland, Houston (the only team Portland lost to in Las Vegas) and Brooklyn.
However, the Jazz refused to cooperate. Utah trailed by as many as nine and were down 87-86 late in the fourth but closed the game out by outscoring Phoenix 11-6 in the final three minutes to come away with a 97-93 victory. With the win, Utah improved to 4-0 to finish the preliminary round in third and ensure Portland would miss a chance to add another Summer League Tournament championship ring to their collection.
The Trail Blazers will now wrap up their 2023 Summer League by facing the 2-2 Miami Heat on Sunday in their fifth and final game in Las Vegas. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. on ESPN2.