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April 21, 2014

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NBA Day 9: Just crown him already

Just crown him already - Trailblazers 74, Suns 73

If you were hoping for suspense as far as who will be this year's summer league MVP, don't even bother stressing it.

Jerryd Bayless secured those honors Saturday night in Cox Pavilion. That's unofficial, of course. But, well, just go with it.

Heck, it's not even known whether the Portland rookie will be suiting up for the Trailblazers Sunday in their 5 p.m. finale against New Orleans. There's a chance he'll be called upon to play for the USA Select team (which serves this week as practice dummies for Team USA in Vegas in its final stages of Olympic preparation).

Doesn't really matter, though.

As it stands, his 29.8 scoring average (including Saturday's 36-point explosion) would be a new record in the five-year history of the Vegas summer league (excluding Marcus Banks' 42.0 average last year since he played in just one game).

Bayless said he hasn't thought about the hardware at all. He's here for one reason.

"Obviously, a lot of people are looking for jobs and whatnot, but the main focus is to win," said the 11th overall pick in last month's draft. "(Summer league players) know if you win, the more opportunities you're gonna get."

True, Bayless' roster spot in Portland this upcoming season is all but guaranteed. Though he's done quite a job this week in creating some buzz. If Saturday was his final showing, it was a heckuva way to go out.

After a scoreless first quarter, Bayless dropped nine in the second stanza. Then, after the half, his shot was going off with confidence, as he atoned for a 1-for-8 start from the floor by hitting 13 of his final 18 shot attempts. He also got himself to the line a bit, including two key trips in the closing minutes, during which he scored the Blazers' final seven points in a come-from-behind effort.

In the end, he topped the 30-point barrier for the first time as a pro, is now shooting 48.5 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from distance and 82 percent from the line.

He was completely comfortable. At one point in the fourth quarter, after picking up a questionable traveling call, a fan courtside yelled 'You didn't do it, Jerryd!' His response? 'I know!'

Got all of that?

Of far less importance to Bayless - though good for water cooler chatter among hoops fans - is that he's gone from under-the-rader lottery prospect to being the top performer so far in any of the NBA's three summer leagues.

"I play hard - in whatever situation I'm put in, I'm gonna play hard," Bayless said. "That gains respect.

"I think a lot of people obviously did have me under the radar a little bit, but I come out here and I'm gonna play as hard as I can, and if that puts me back on top with (more well-known rookies), whatever."

His play left the biggest impression with the smattering of Blazers fans seated behind the team's bench. In a small taped-off area up there were general manager Kevin Pritchard (whose draft night trade brought Bayless to the organization) and head coach Nate McMillan.

"What he does is he scores, and tonight he showed that he could score ... And we needed his scoring tonight," said McMillan, who was all smiles after the game. "You've got some guards in the league like that, who are drivers and attackets. He's averaged at least double figures in free throws (before tonight). Tonight he didn't get to the line, his shot was much better, but, you know, I like his aggressiveness, I like his ability to attack the basket."

If you're a Blazer fan, Saturday may have just got you confused. Never mind the young nucleus of players who resuscitated the franchise last season by going 41-41. You now add in Bayless, last year's top pick Greg Oden (who missed his first NBA season after microfracture surgery on his knee) and Spanish backcourt prospect Rudy Fernandez, who team officials are very high on.

It leaves one question: Where are all the crafty veterans?

"We're gonna be young, but I've got a great young coach, who I feel really develops players," said Pritchard, one of the league's more innovative GMs. "We always want a really good team. If they're young, so be it."

Then so it will be. Team dinners at Chuck E. Cheese's could be interesting.

This and that ... Heading into Saturday, Bayless' biggest competition for MVP honors was Minnesota big man Kevin Love. Love, who registered double-doubles in his first three showings this week, had just 10 points and nine boards in limited duty in a Saturday afternoon loss to Milwaukee ... On the offensive end, if you think Bayless' teammates just stood around and watched, well, you're pretty much right. He was the only Blazer in double figures ... Alando Tucker was strong again on the offensive end for Phoenix, with 18 points (13 in the first half). He didn't play a ton after halftime ... Suns first-rounder Robin Lopez had eight points and eight rebounds ...

Wow ... that escalated really fast ... - Wizards 80, Rockets 75 (OT)

Dee Brown apparently knows the game of chess that goes on inside the game of basketball.

To set the scene ...

Houston is up by a point on Washington in the closing seconds late Saturday afternoon in Cox Pavilion. Rockets guard Gustavo Barrera brings the ball up the floor, and in the corner in front of his team's bench gets clobbered by a pair of defenders while going up for a shot.

Joey Dorsey, a physical freak of a rookie forward sitting the game out in street clothes with a sprained ankle, begins jawboning with Brown, running the point at the time for the Wizards.

While Barrera's cashing his free throws, Dorsey continues to yap. First with Brown, then with Wiz forward Andray Blatche. The guy just won't shut up.

After the second charity goes in, the ref stops right in front of Dorsey, T's him up and yells 'That's it ... you've gotta go!'

It all fell apart from there for the Rockets. First, the technical free throw was good. Then Brown, the smallest guy on the floor at the time, tips in a Nick Young miss from the corner with less than a second to play and forces overtime.

That was it. Young drilled a deep three in OT, and Houston could only muster a single point in the extra two-minute frame.

"What's so crazy is we got into an altercation, but it was just friendly, you know?" said Brown, a third-year guard out of Illinois. "I kinda hyped it on, hyped it on, and he just kept talking. I guess it helped us out in the long run."

In conclusion, it turned an otherwise snoozer of a game into something for you to read about.

Woot! Go summer league!

This and that ... The aforementioned Blatche, who for all intents and purposes should be dominating the summer league, has done just that. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds. He's averaging 20 points and 7.3 rebounds for the weekend. Though, as is usually the case for Blatche, we'll see how that translates come October ... Maarty Leunen continues to be the summer league's most dangerous three-point threat. He hit three more Saturday, making him 9-of-21for the week ... Aaron Brooks nearly played the hero yet again for Houston. The second-year point guard, who's provided last-second fireworks in the Rockets' last two games, hit two clutch free throws which would have turned out to be the game-winning points had Joey Dorsey maybe, say, stayed home sick in bed today ... Double-doubles were seen on both sides. Fresno State product Dominic McGuire had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Washington, while the explosive Mike Harris had 16 and 11 for Houston ...

Big, bad, Belly finale - Warriors 95, Raptors 90

Baron Davis, Shmaron Davis.

No true point guard left on the Golden State roster? No problem. At least the team's brass was pretty encouraged by what it saw Saturday out of second-year guard Marco Belinelli in his first start at the point in the Vegas summer league.

"We always knew he could score, and we tried him at point guard today, and we won the game, and I thought he did a pretty good job," said Warriors head coach Don Nelson, who sat a few rows behind the team bench in the stands. "He definitely can make some plays."

The Italian import - and last year's summer league urban legend - finished with 14 points, eight assists and a string of clutch moments as Golden State closed out its summer slate with a 95-90 win over Toronto in the Cox Pavilion. The Warriors finished the week 4-1, and Marco looked more than fluid in firing no-look passes all over the place throughout the contest.

Belly, who scored 30 points and displayed pinpoint marksmanship Tuesday against Charlotte, rebounded from a couple rough 1-for-10 shooting performance in between only to heat up once again in the fourth quarter Saturday.

He hit two late jumpers to help close the deal, and then made a key assist to ice it even further after missing the back end of a pair to the line.

"I think this game was very important for me because it was the first time I played point for a whole game - I think this is very good for me," Belinelli said in a thick Mediterranean accent. "I think I can play point guard and shooting guard."

Whether he showed enough in one summer league game (a.k.a. glorified scrimmage) to prove that he could fill Baron's vacated spot is highly unlikely. But the team has made it clear that rising star Monta Ellis, who they plan to re-sign this summer at any cost, will begin to learn the position. And with the free agent point guard market pretty much dried, Belly's in contention for some of those minutes, too. It's only natural in the helter-skelter, freestyle of a system Nelson preaches, where positions can wind up undefined.

"First and foremost, he's gotta be a shotmaker," said Warriors GM Chris Mullin, who knows a thing or two about filling the bucket himself. "That's his real skill. He does make some nice plays. The way we play, we don't have to really pigeonhole him to point guard or two-guard."

Belly and Mullin parted ways for the rest of the summer after the game with the youngster walking by, waving and saying 'see you in September'. Mullin reminded him once more to get some practice in. Sure, the 17.8 ppg were nice for Marco this week, but he shot just 38.9 percent from the floor, including a combined 5-of-25 in the last two games.

Also showing some nice ball skills - but far less likely to be handling point duties in the Bay - was first-round pick Anthony Randolph.

The lanky 6-foot-10 prospect put the ball on the floor repeatedly, and in return hit the deck several times while flying towards the rim. He returned the favor, cashing 16 of his 18 free throw tries, pacing him to a 26-point, 12-rebound finale. He finished the week averaging 20.8 points and 7.8 boards a game, but his work at the line was probably his biggest point of pride.

Saturday included, he went 27-of-32 (84 percent) for the week.

"My whole thing is I worked on my free throws a lot," said Randolph of the time following his only season at LSU. "This year I was like 68 percent (69.3 to be exact). So I really put a lot of time into my free throws, so that every time I drive, I'll either finish or get the free throws."

Like Belinelli, he looks forward to the upcoming season in Nelson's wide open attack.

"It puts a smile on my face," he said. "He allows you to play and just do it. If you're a basketball player, he just allows you to play."

This and that ... As for the two local interests on the Golden State roster, it was a relatively quiet day. UNLV product Louis Amundson had four points and three rebounds while playing just eight minutes. As for Gorman grad C.J. Watson, he was in street clothes with a bruised thigh. Watson certainly made an impression this week, though, and should have a real shot at the opening night roster. In four games, he averaged 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds ... Anthony Morrow certainly turned some heads for Golden State, too. The Georgia Tech product scored 22 points in 34 minutes on 9-of-14 shooting. It was his largest chunk of playing time this week. He was 17-of-24 from the floor in three games ... All five starters for Toronto were in double figures in scoring, led by Desmon Farmer's 22 points. That also included Nathan "Aussie Shaq" Jawai's 13 points scored in 17 minutes before sitting and icing his knee for a bit ... Rod Benson - a.k.a. blogosphere kingpin and the godfather of the 'Boom Tho' movement - made his summer league debut in Toronto's finale. He'd sat the first four games with a sprained MCL, and Saturday recorded four points and four boards in six minutes. He wasn't quite in there like swim wear, but he was ready like spaghetti. BOOM THO!!!! ...

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