Blazers off to rocky summer start

Barton added to summer injury list with knee sprain




LAS VEGAS — In these NBA Summer League games, many of the head coaches wear shorts that reveal that they could use some time outside in the Vegas sun.

The halftime entertainment consists of children incorrectly ducking under limbo sticks, and often eyes tend to venture away from the action on the court and into the stands where the NBA gentry are hobnobbing.

This is basketball’s version of a lazy Sunday.

So, the results of Summer League games rarely register alarm.

However when the Portland Trail Blazers lost 81-63 to the Los Angeles Lakers, several concerning trends appeared.

For the second straight game, the Blazers (0-2) played well through the early stages, but as their effort flattened in the second half, their deficit swelled.

“We’ve done the same thing both games,” said assistant Nate Tibbetts, who served as head coach on Sunday. “We’ve come out and played pretty well the first (half). Tonight was about 14 minutes. (Saturday) night, it was 18 minutes. We got comfortable and then they turned it up and we didn’t match their intensity.”

Also similar to the previous game, Portland only produced two players in double figures (CJ McCollum scored 15 points and Meyers Leonard provided 12). And, once again, a second-year player left the game with an injury.

With about three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Blazers deep in a double-digit hole, Will Barton was gearing up for a dribble-drive when a defender stepped on his ankle. The collision hyperextended Barton’s knee and later the Blazers announced the diagnosis of a right knee sprain.

Barton joins teammate Victor Claver (left quad contusion) on the summer injury list. Claver did not play on Sunday and although Barton did not need assistance to leave the arena after the game, he described himself as “day-to-day.”

“It sucks anytime you go down in a game and you’re losing … All I care about is winning,” Barton said. “Of course, I want to play good but the most important thing is getting the ‘W.’ To go down while we’re losing hurts.”

While Summer League crams a who’s who list of NBA team owners, general managers and even Hall of Famers all under one roof in a relaxed vibe, this isn’t just a vacation in the desert for the Blazers.

Unlike most Summer League teams, the Blazers’ roster features six players under contract, the guys who should make up a large part of the bench during the 2013-14 season.

Nevertheless, these rotation players struggled against the Lakers — a team filled with D-League talent and answers to “Where Are They Now?” trivia questions.

After hitting his first, McCollum’s 3-point stroke disappeared (1-for-5 from beyond the arc).

Leonard, who finished with six fouls, five rebounds and two blocks, sulked after making mistakes and needed a pick-me-up chat with assistant coach David Vanterpool after the game.

Plus, Thomas Robinson demonstrated his strapping strength for a team-high 10 rebounds as well as his unpolished game with a team-high five turnovers.

These three players — along with Barton and rookie Allen Crabbe starting in place of Claver — stumbled together as the Lakers rolled to a 12-0 run near the end of the first half.

As a team, the Blazers shot 38.4 percent from the floor, committed 19 turnovers and did not get to the free-throw line enough (12 attempts compared to 33 for the Lakers).

“What makes me upset, to me … we turned the ball over,” Barton said. “It’s not that their pressure was that extreme. We’re making bonehead decisions, not executing.

“I just felt that we were trying to do too much.”

Though the Blazers, led by the six main projects, have not won yet in Las Vegas, Tibbetts feels the results do not reflect the development.

“We didn’t play great today (but) we’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys,” Tibbetts said. “We feel like they’re going to bring something to the table, so I wouldn’t say there’s any concern.”