September 30, 2022

TUALATIN — Tuesday’s Summer League practice ended with Didi Louzada sinking a game-winning three-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer

“I was so happy when I did it,” Louzada said.

So did his Portland Trail Blazers teammates, who let out a collective roar that exemplified the level of camaraderie and cohesion this group showed through four practices. From singing happy birthdays to teammates to constant words of encouragement in the midst of intense competition, these Blazers have a blast. And the link.

That’s only expected to increase further Thursday at 9 p.m., when the Blazers face Detroit in their first NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas. The session runs until July 17.

Blazers assistant coach Steve Hetzel is the head coach for the summer session. He said on Sunday the team’s energy and focus had been high and the execution had improved from practice one to practice two. Hetzel did not speak to the media on Tuesday, but Greg Brown III, Keon Johnson and Brandon Williams each said practices were productive and fun.

Rookie Shaedon Sharpe’s play added to the spice.

The main summer league focus for most Blazers fans will likely be the performance of the man their team selected with the No. 7 pick in the NBA Draft last month.

Every player who has spoken to the media since practice began on Saturday has praised Sharpe.

“He has a bright future,” Trendon Watford told reporters on Sunday. “The kid is good. It just seems effortless to him.

Watford had a moment on Saturday in which they grabbed a defensive rebound, took off in transition and finished the game with a go-oop pass to Sharpe down the left side for the dunk.

“He’s a monster athlete,” said Johnson, who said his goal this summer was to show how much he’s improved since the end of the season. “He can score the ball, but he can also defend. I see why we drafted him. I feel like he and I are very similar in many ways.

They certainly are when it comes to athletics. Between Johnson, Sharpe and Brown, the Blazers will have three of the best athletes of any summer league team. Brown, Johnson and Watford, and point guard Brandon Williams, saw intense action at the end of last season after the franchise sat some stars for the season and traded others.

Trail Blazers guard Brandon Williams speaks to the media after Summer League practice. July 5, 2022. Aaron Fentress/The Oregonian

Watford said on Sunday that the cohesion these four players have developed over the season is gradually returning this summer.

“We’re just trying to refresh some things and restore our chemistry,” he said.

Leading the group of high-flyers will be Williams, who worked his way into a two-way contract last season.

“It should be a Vegas show,” Williams said.

The one he can’t wait to lead. Williams said he learned a lot last season from Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons about how to orchestrate and teach. Williams averaged 12.4 points per game in 24 appearances with 16 starts in his first NBA season. He also added 3.9 assists. Passing and playing are areas where Williams can improve, but he said he will continue to play his game.

“Take whatever the defense gives,” he said. “I think that’s just the main goal the coach told me about.”

He said one of his strengths is getting into the paint and making good decisions with the ball, whether that means scoring or finding teammates.

“Summer is a good time to do that and a good time for me to show what I can do,” he said.

Brown said his goal is to improve as a defender because he knows it’s a great way to get on the court under head coach Chauncey Billups. Last summer his head was swimming as he adjusted to professional play, but this summer he said he felt much more confident.

“I changed mentally,” he said. “Big mental change. Big mindset change in my way of looking at things. How to practice. How to be in practice.

As for rookies, both are coming but still have a long way to go, according to Hetzel.

“For Jabari and Shaedon, their heads are spinning because of the language and the actual covers and execution of the plays,” Hetzel said. “But we try so hard to represent it that they could just play basketball then.”

How players are used will be determined by how the session goes. Hetzel said the goal was to win games. But at some point, he will sit down with general manager Joe Cronin and Billups to determine whether to move forward or back.

SUMMER LEAGUE SCHEDULE

9 p.m. Thursday vs. Detroit Pistons (ESPN)

7 p.m. Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans (ESPN2)

8 p.m. Monday vs. New York Knicks (ESPN2)

6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14 vs. Houston Rockets (NBA TV)

All games will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting NBAEvents.com.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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