Here's the latest Portland Trail Blazers news (Dec. 7) after a 110-106 loss to the Golden State Warriors, including another injury to another guard, the keys to Rip City's small-ball lineups and Anfernee Simons' huge first game back.
Anfernee Simons looks like he never left
Anfernee Simons tore a ligament in his thumb on opening night against the LA Clippers. He underwent surgery and was expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks.
Well, 6 weeks and 1 day later, the 24-year-old returned to the Portland Trail Blazers lineup and didn't miss a beat.
Simons started, played 37 minutes and poured in a team-high 28 points. He was far from shy. Every time he got a sliver of space, he fired away from deep. He wasn't afraid to drive into contact.
He shot 10-of-27 from the field and 6-of-13 from three and added four assists. Unfortunately, Portland was missing Deandre Ayton and Jerami Grant from the starting lineup and, fittingly for this season, lost one guard to injury just as another returned.
Malcolm Brogdon leaves early (again)
Malcolm Brogdon started alongside Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Toumani Camara and Duop Reath against Golden State, but after only 12 minutes, the 30-year-old left the floor and didn't return.
The team cited right knee soreness as the reason for Brogdon's early exit. To pour salt on the wound, it was Brogdon's left hamstring that forced him to miss five games in November, so he's already dealt with injuries to both legs before Christmas.
Simons, Brogdon and Scoot Henderson have now all missed time for the Blazers, who were expected to have a four-guard rotation. Fans were excited to see the trio of Simons, Scoot and Sharpe share the floor, and just as that dream became a reality, Portland's most steady veteran went down. It's been that kind of season for the team's backcourt.
Surprising duo becoming key to successful Blazers small-ball
The five-man lineup of Henderson, Sharpe, Matisse Thybulle, Jabari Walker and Reath has played 24 minutes together across three of the Trail Blazers' recent contests. It has an offensive rating of 122.2 and a defensive rating of 85.4 for a net rating of 36.8. (As covered here, Scoot has been a common denominator in successful bench lineups since his own return from injury).
Those numbers are unsustainable over time, but they offer a glimpse into how successful Portland can be when it chooses to play small.
That unheralded group can cause opposing defenses maybe not nightmares, but at least nightworries. Four of them are threats to take and make threes. All five are willing to run the floor. Hard.
Maybe what makes the group so successful, though, is that each player is just annoying to play against. Henderson and Sharpe will out-athletic you for 48 minutes if they have to. Thybulle is a defensive pest. Walker is above average at just about everything on a basketball court. Reath has no qualms about firing from deep, and both "big men" will scrap and battle for rebounds.
As head coach Chauncey Billups said after the loss to the Warriors per Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian/Oregon Live:
"“I thought both guys played well. Duop was good. He provided some good shot-making for us, but he’s rolling, making good plays. He’s just a good basketball player. And then Bari, as well. Bari is a scrapper, man. He’s a Scrapper. He’s gonna get in there, he’s gonna mix it up."- Chauncey Billups on Walker and Reath
It will be interesting to see how often Billups continues to put that group on the floor, especially when (or maybe if) his team gets fully healthy. If nothing else, though, it's a fun wrinkle he can go to in spurts to bother opposing bench units and get teams on their heels.