LAS VEGAS — The Portland Trail Blazers, unlike their opponent Saturday afternoon, did not have the luxury of playing in previous summer league games prior to their debut in Las Vegas. But in the end, that lack of experience didn’t seem to matter.
Portland never trailed by more than two points and would pull away in the fourth quarter to come way with a 72-63 victory versus the Utah Jazz in their first game of the Las Vegas Summer League Saturday afternoon at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV.
“I thought it went well,” said Jake Layman, who started at forward Saturday afternoon for the Blazers. “It was the first game, everybody is a little tired out there obviously. I thought for our first game we played really well. We were moving the ball and, most importantly, we were guarding.”
The Trail Blazers are now 1-0 in Las Vegas Summer League play with at least four games to play.
While winning is never a bad thing, player development is far more important than the final result at summer league, and with their performance Saturday afternoon, the Trail Blazers succeeded on both fronts. They held the Jazz to 32 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from three while winning the rebound battle 43-32 and leading by as many as 15. In total, Portland looked like the better team throughout despite Utah having already played three games in their own backyard at the summer league in Salt Lake City.
But the Trail Blazers still would have had plenty to be happy about even if the end result had gone the other way. Caleb Swanigan, selected by the Trail Blazers with the 26th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, looked every bit as impressive on the boards as he did during two seasons at Purdue, putting up a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds in his first game professional game.
“We won, I played well,” said Swanigan. “You don’t always make every shot, you don’t do everything right, but if you win, that’s all you want at the end of the day.”
Swanigan might not have been satisfied with going 4-of-12 from the field, but grabbing four offensive rebound and going 7-of-8 from the free throw line more than made up for an off night shooting. The team has stressed that rebounding and defense are more important to them than scoring, and in both of those arenas, Swanigan more than held his own.
“He goes after rebounds, he’s at the rim, he’s great in pick-and-roll defense,” said assistant coach and acting summer league head coach Jim Moran of Swanigan. “I think he’s going to have the ability to really switch out and guard smaller guys, he’s got good footwork. I was very impressed with how he is defensively and just his toughness.”
The Trail Blazers also saw what they wanted to see from Layman in the first game of his second summer league stint. The 6-9 forward, who appeared in 35 games for Portland during his rookie season, scored his first points on a baseline dunk on the way to going 4-of-8 from the field for 13 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
“I’m glad (Layman) is aggressive,” said Moran. “I think looking for his shot is something he has to be very cognizant of, that’s important for him. So coming off screens, ‘Hey if I get a step, I’ve got to shoot this.’ He’s going to get open looks and as a shooter, some go down, some don’t, but with Jake we stress more his defensive stuff, being able to guard guys. Just constantly reminding him to get up, guard and he did a good job today.”
The team was also satisfied with the play, particularly on the defensive end, of rookie Zach Collins, who Portland acquired in a draft night trade after the Las Vegas native was taken with the 10th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings. Like Swanigan, Collins was disappointed in his shooting Saturday afternoon — he went 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-4 from three — though he more than made up for it on the defensive end.
“Zach was good, it was his first game back home,” said Moran. “I think he’s going to have to adjust a little bit to the NBA game — he tried that one post move where he was trying to back somebody down, he didn’t really get far. But he’s a smart kid, he’s going to find this spots, he can shoot, he was at the rim a bunch. We were really happy with him, he’s another guy defensively who can move his feet and keep guys in front of him, so we’re happy with that.”
RJ Hunter rounded out Portland’s double-digit scorers with 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting. Jorge Gutierrez added five points, seven rebounds, two steals and an assist in 21 minutes and Markel Brown contributed seven points and five rebounds in just under 15 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers play the second of a summer league back-to-back versus the Boston Celtics Sunday night at Thomas & Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm.