Western Notes: Simons, Suns, Jazz, Thunder

Blazers guard Anfernee Simons is adjusting to his new role of being the number one option on the team, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com writes. Portland traded away CJ McCollum, Norman Powell and others at the trade deadline and is missing Damian Lillard due to an abdominal injury, clearing the way for Simons to receive a larger role.

“Obviously I’m going to be at the top of the scouting report even more now that (Jusuf Nurkic) is out,” Simons said. Nurkic is dealing with a foot injury and will miss at least three more weeks. “So just learning how to navigate through that. Obviously it’s going to be even more tougher for me but it’s the perfect time to see everything.

“Like, the Warriors threw a box-and-one at me, probably the first time I’ve been boxed-and-one’d since high school. That was an interesting thing to kind of navigate though.”

Simons is in his fourth season with the franchise. He’s averaging a career-high 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game, shooting 44% from the field, 40.5% from deep and 89% from the free throw line. He most recently finished with 38 points in a loss to the Timberwolves on Saturday.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • Unlikely heroes are stepping up for the Suns in the absences of Chris Paul (thumb) and Devin Booker (protocols), Cydney Henderson of USA Today writes. Phoenix received a key performance from Cameron Johnson on Friday, as the 26-year-old finished with 38 points and a buzzer-beating game-winner. Mikal Bridges also added 20 points, while Cameron Payne recorded 17 points and 16 assists.
  • The Jazz could be facing an offseason of massive change if they don’t make a deep postseason run, ESPN’s Tim McMahon suggested on The Lowe Post. Utah has had an inconsistent season — the team is 8-2 in its last 10 games but lost by 34 on Friday against New Orleans — and could break up the Donovan MitchellRudy Gobert partnership if it doesn’t succeed this year.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report explores how the Thunder could drive various blockbuster deals this summer. Oklahoma City will be armed with cap space and draft picks from a massive rebuild. As Pincus notes, the team currently has up to $31.8MM in cap space, but nearly all of it will be lost when the league calendar year flips on July 1. The assessment comes from factoring in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s new extension and assuming Derrick Favors exercises his $10.2MM player option.
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