LAS VEGAS (AP) – Wash. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers will meet in the NBA Summer League championship for a second straight season.
Last year Kyle Kuzma dropped a game-high 30 points to lead the Lakers to a 110-98 victory over Portland.
This year it’ll be MVP-candidate Josh Hart — one of two returning players from last year’s team — looking to earn a second straight title for the Lakers (6-0). Alex Caruso is also back for Los Angeles.
But for Hart, who didn’t play in the 2017 title game, he is not looking at it as a two-peat, given the complexion of this year’s squad is different.
“Our identity is totally different, the make-up is totally different, that team last year we had three first-rounders and a second rounder, so the make-up was totally different and how we played was totally different,” Hart said. “This team is tough, is gutty and determined to win. I came here to win, I came here to dominate and that’s what I want to do tomorrow.”
While Hart is a leading candidate for MVP of the entire summer league, he said he’s not worried about following in the footsteps of Lonzo Ball, who was awarded the honor last season.
“It’s a testament to the hard work I put in this off season, but I don’t go for individual accolades, that’s never been a reason why I played this game — I play this game to win,” said Hart, who is averaging 24.1 through six games. “If we win, that’s the biggest thing.”
It won’t be easy, though, as Portland (6-0) has three players back from last year’s squad, including Las Vegas-native Zach Collins, along with Caleb Swanigan and Jake Layman.
“We all want to win out here, we’ve gotten this far so why go home with a loss,” said Layman, who is averaging 14 points after the first six games. “It’s fun for us to play them again, we had a tough loss last year, didn’t have our best game. So I think we’re all excited to get back out there and get a win this year.”
For Collins, he’s looking for redemption personally, after struggling last summer in his hometown and getting injured before the championship, then enduring the rigors of a rugged rookie season.
And nothing would mean more for him than to win a pro championship, albeit a summer league title, in front of friends and family.
“The team took care of business and got to the championship and I had to go back to Portland to get better so I wasn’t a part of it; technically this is my first year,” said Collins, who won four high school state championship at Bishop Gorman and helped lead Gonzaga to the 2017 national championship game. “I’m excited, we came all this way, we played this well to get this far and this is our goal. Our goal was to come in and win this thing and we’re one win away from doing that.”
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