In front of a sparse crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Sunday night, the Portland Trail Blazers played their first of seven Summer League games against the new look New Orleans Hornets. Without NOLA’s first overall pick Anthony Davis patrolling the paint, the Hornets had to rely on 10th pick Austin Rivers while the Blazers got a good chance to see how Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton and the rest of the Summer League roster would gel.
Coach Kaleb Canales’ starting lineup featured Damian Lillard, Nolan Smith, Wesley Matthews, Luke Babbitt, and Meyers Leonard. It was clear from the start that nerves on both teams were high. The Blazers fell victim to careless turnovers and poor shooting in the early going, reaching a shooting percentage as low as 27% from the floor.
Rivers would knock down a few deep three-pointers, but looked very anxious, trying to do too much with the ball and not including his teammates down the stretch. It became clear that the Hornets will have trouble trying to convince him into a true point guard, as he looks more comfortable at the two spot.
The Hornets went on a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter that resulted in a 17-point hole for the Blazers by halftime. During the second half, the Blazers buckled down on defensive, Lillard did little bit of everything by dishing pretty passes and propelling himself past his defender on numerous occasions, Babbitt hit a couple of deep threes, and Leonard cruised his way to a double-double en route to a comeback 85-82 win.
Lillard had trouble shooting in the first half going 2-for-10, but then flipped the switch in the second half, going 7-for-11 for a game-high 25 points, to go with four rebounds, four assists, and three turnovers in 33 minutes.
Leonard showcased some talent and hustle by grabbing plenty of offensive and defensive rebounds, a welcome sight for a big man wearing a Blazer uniform. Leonard is clearly not afraid to commit the hard foul or wrestle away the loose ball. He finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
Another pleasant surprise included Luke Babbitt’s 19 points and 10 rebounds with some deep threes and quick moves. Nolan Smith looked very aggressive in the first half, driving inside for a few power layups, but had to leave the game after turning his ankle in the first half. Post game, the prognosis for Nolan was a sore ankle, and not much more, which is a very good sign. Smith finished with 10 points.
Pretty solid start for the Trail Blazers rookies. They got the day off on Monday, and will face the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.