Trail Blazers liking 'Melo' love
With 9:15 remaining and Portland comfortably ahead of Oklahoma City on Wednesday night at Moda Center, the newest Trail Blazer left the court and headed to the bench for the final time.
Fans rose from their seats for a standing ovation, and "Mel-o! Mel-o!" chants rang through the building.
Don't think the new sheriff in town — well, deputy, at least — didn't notice.
"It was surprising, but people, they see how genuine this is for me, right?" Carmelo Anthony said. "It's not fake. It's authentic. This is who I am. This is real love at the end of the day. People can sense when it's not. That's what we're dealing with."
Anthony couldn't have had a better home debut as a Blazer, scoring 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting as Portland breezed to a 136-119 victory over the Thunder. It was the fifth game in a Portland uniform for the 35-year-old Anthony, who signed a non-guaranteed, one-year, free-agent contract little more than a week ago and joined the Blazers for the final four games of their recent six-game road trip.
"My first home game at the Moda Center in Portland, still trying to find my way through this whole situation ... the fans were incredible tonight, the support they showed," Anthony said. "To be a part of this atmosphere on the other side rather than being on the opposing team, being able to feel that support and that communication from the fans — it goes a long way, I'll tell you that."
Anthony — who hadn't played an NBA game in more than a year and was traded by Houston to Chicago in January, then waived — seemed rusty in his first three games with Portland. He burst out with a 25-point, eight-rebound performance in a 117-94 win at Chicago on Monday and followed that up with another gem on Wednesday.
"He has had two good games in a row," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He was very efficient. He was able to score on the block. ... A great offensive night."
Anthony didn't become the 18th-best scorer in NBA history by accident. He's not 28 anymore, but he still owns an arsenal of moves.
On one play in the second quarter, Anthony posted up and drew a double-team, adeptly dishing the ball to a diving Skal Labissiere for a dunk. In the third quarter, Anthony muscled over 7-footer Steve Adams for a layup. On a brilliant play moments later, he reverse pivoted and drove past Terrence Ferguson, then converted a layup over 7-footer Nerlens Noel.
"The thing about 'Melo,' you feel his presence on the court," Stotts said. "He creates a problem (for the defense). You have to account for him. He gives us a different dimension at the offensive end that we're able to take advantage of.
"He's a great scorer on the block. He draws a lot of (defensive) attention. He's a willing passer and a very good passer. The more we're able to do that, the other four guys on the court will figure out where to be, when to cut and know the spacing on it."
The Blazers are hoping Anthony's presence will prevent opponents from focusing their defense on guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
"He presents a different challenge (for the opponent), just from a respect standpoint," said Lillard, who led Portland (7-12) to its second straight win with 27 points. "They've got to honor (him), so it can change coverages, just having another threat like him out there."
In his first five games with Portland — all as a starter — Anthony is averaging 16.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 29 minutes per game. The 6-8, 240-pound veteran, who is playing out of position at power forward, is shooting .453 from the field and .375 from 3-point range.
"I'm starting to feel a little more relaxed and at ease," said Anthony, in his 17th NBA season. "When I first got with (the Blazers), I met them in New Orleans, and it was the hype of excitement with me coming to the team. It was guys not really knowing how this was going to play out, how I was going to fit in.
"Now, everybody is at ease and doing what we do best — that's playing basketball. The communication the last couple of games has been at an all-time high. We have to keep that up."
Anthony has made no secret about his love for the game of basketball and how much he missed playing it during his year away from the game.
When he first joined the Blazers, "I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I wanted to come in and just play basketball and find my joy again, and the excitement of playing basketball and what it should be. I've found that so far — that happiness, that joy in the way the guys have welcomed me with open arms and brought me in here as one of their own. That makes the process a lot easier."
Anthony said he watched very little NBA basketball on TV during his year in hiatus.
"I was trying to disconnect myself from that just to keep myself moving forward mentally and emotionally," he said. "Once I got the call from Portland ... I knew CJ, I knew 'Dame,' I knew Rodney (Hood) from playing against them. I didn't know the atmosphere of this team. I know now."
Anthony's presence has been embraced by his teammates.
"He is sharing a lot of wisdom," reserve guard Kent Bazemore said. "I've learned a lot from him just in the week that he's been here. For him to come back and play with the heart he has, it says a lot about his character. It's good having his voice and experience in the locker room. I'm glad he's with us. His reputation precedes him. He hasn't been anything but an asset to us.
"He has picked up the game pretty quick even missing a year. The game has changed in the year he's been out. For him to come in and impose his will and assert himself shows how talented he is."
Hood followed Anthony during his year playing collegiately at Syracuse and during his time with the Denver Nuggets.
"I'm been a fan of his game for a very long time," Hood said. "I'm excited to be a teammate. He has added a lot to our team on both ends. Defensively, he talks and is really active. Offensively, he takes care of mismatches when they try to put smaller guys on him. He does a great job of creating havoc."
When rookie forward Nassir Little was little, he followed players such as Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
"That was when I became a fan of the NBA," Little said. "I was talking to my family before the season and said Carmelo should be on a team. He's a (future) Hall of Famer. It makes no sense that he wouldn't be on a team. I was throwing it out there — what if he came to Portland? And he came.
"As the season goes on, I'll have more time to get with him, pick his brain and learn some things."
Anthony has bonded already with Lillard, who have played in All-Star games together. Three years ago, Lillard tried to recruit Anthony for the Blazers.
"Ever since that moment, we've been in contact," Lillard said.
Over the past week, Lillard said he has had a couple of lengthy conversations with Anthony.
"I told him, when we look back on our careers, everybody won't be able to say, 'I got a ring,' or 'I was MVP,' " Lillard said. "But everybody can have certain things. Being a part of a team is sharing special moments with each other. Being here for 'Melo's' comeback and him being back in the league — moments like that, that's what the memories are going to be.
"I appreciate how humble he has been about all of this. He didn't bad-talk anybody about it over a full year. He just waited patiently and came back prepared. That says a lot about him."
The Blazers haven't yet had a practice since Anthony's arrival.
"With time, everything will get better and better," Lillard said. "When you're dealing with a player of his caliber, not just what he does on the floor but his (basketball) IQ, his understanding of the game — that's all going to come into play and help us even more when he understands what we're trying to accomplish as a team, with more practice and (video) and correction."
Anthony said his relationship with Lillard as a teammate "has been great."
"It will continue to get better, the more time we have with each other, the more experience we have out there on the court together, when we start practicing and sharpening some things up," Anthony said. "It's going to be a lot of fun playing out there alongside him."
Anthony said his role with the Blazers hasn't yet been established.
"It's been important for me to come in and take my time and be as efficient as I can and take what the defense is giving me and play off of 'Dame' and CJ and the other guys," he said. "When it's time for me go and create and get a bucket, I'll have the opportunity to do that."
Anthony said he is feeling good about his decision to sign with the Blazers.
"Portland wouldn't make that decision if they didn't believe in me and what I can bring to this team, from a basketball standpoint but also a leadership standpoint and from an experience standpoint," he said. "This organization really believed in me, and that trickles down to the teammates and the environment to the fans. We all have to come together to make this happen."
NOTES: Wednesday's game was a laugher from the opening tip. Portland started 10 for 10 from the field, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range, to take a 28-17 lead. The Blazers went on a 12-0 roll to increase the margin to 40-17 and was on top 42-26 after one quarter, their highest-scoring quarter of the season. The Thunder closed to within 63-50 at the half. OKC cut the difference to nine points early in the third quarter, but Portland extended it to 104-77 after three quarters and led by as many as 35 points in the final period. The Blazers, ranked 26th in the NBA in rebound percentage, owned the backboards 54-38 and went 24 for 24 from the free-throw line. McCollum scored 22 points, and center Hassan Whiteside contributed 21 points and 16 rebounds in just 22 minutes. ... Abdel Nader came off the bench for 23 points for Oklahoma City (6-11), which has lost six of its last eight games). ... The Blazers' next action is 7 p.m. Friday at home against Chicago.
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