By Arnie Leshin
In what figured to be his last stop in the National Basketball Association, Carmelo Anthony made the right choice when he settled in Portland last November.
He had played 16 years in the NBA after leading Syracuse University to its first and only NCAA basketball championship in the 2002-03 season. He had played 1,122 games when he stepped off the plane to sign with the Trailblazers. It was a non-guaranteed one-year contract and Anthony hadn’t played a game since being released by the Houston Rockets in November of 2019.
No other team offered to sign him, so the consensus was that his expected Hall of Fame career was over, that is until Portland contacted him a contract, and he did not disappoint, proving the doubting thomas’ wrong. In January, his contract was upped to full guaranteed, and prior to the coronavirus pandemic, he was provided a new contract.
If anyone is surprised, the Blazers are just happy to have him. After he contributed to Tuesday night‘s Portland’s 126-122 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to earn a spot in the restarted NBA shortened season playoff quarterfinals Tuesday, he now finds himself in the first round against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and his long-time buddy LeBron James. He has now vaulted to 14th place among all NBA scorers with 26,411 points, he might never add to his 10 All-Star appearances, but he no doubt has a new life on the basketball court.
The small forward has been relegated to a starter. He has also won the annual Maurice Lucas Award, which was announced prior to the important game versus Memphis. It was win or have to play the Grizzlies against on Sunday to clinch the final seed, and for the second time since playing Memphis and coming back from 14 points down, this time they rallied while behind by nine at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in nearby Disney World.
With 12 seconds left in regulations, Anthony’s 3-point fade away jumper from the far corner and upped the Blazers comeback lead from four to seven points. He finished with 21 points, while back court teammates Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullough tallied 31 and 29, respectively.
As for the Maurice Lucas Award, it has been in existence since the 2010-11 season. It honors the player who best represents Lucas on the court and in the community, as well as in support of his team and its organization.
Said Anthony: “I’m a student of the game so I know how great of a player and person that Maurice Lucas was, and all of his achievements in basketball, and in the community, and what he was able to stand for.”
Lucas, who led Portland to the NBA championship in the 1976-77 season, died in October of 2010 at the age of 58.
His widow, Pam, said that Anthony’s experience, knowledge, leadership and authenticism have been a perfect addition to the Trailblazers and to the city of Portland. I am proud to present this award to him.
Even Portland owner and CEO Chris McGowan had positive things to add as he praised Anthony’s addition to the club.
“Carmelo has been an authentic leader since he came aboard,” said McGowan, “He has been the perfect teammate, and we are fortunate to have him.”
Then there was Portland head coach Terry Stots. “Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in Melo’s hands to start with, but he has assimilated to his role and has done all we needed to become a better team. He loves the game, the camaraderie, and loves being in the NBA.”
In the game before the Grizzies, Anthony tossed in back-to-back key 3s against the Houston Rockets, totaled 18 points, brought down 12 rebounds, and handed out 5 assists. Versus Memphis, he was a marksman 10-for-10 from the free throw line, and added a pair of blocked shots.
The box score versus the Grizzlies included Memphis with 19-33-42-28 by periods, and the Blazers 31-27-31-37.
Now, no matter what the consensus had said, he’s still around and a big piece of the Trailblazers’ run to the quarters, and again taking the court against James.
The other Western Conference quarterfinals has 4th seed Houston facing 5th seed Oklahoma City, 3rd seed Denver taking on 6th seed Utah, and the 2nd seeded Los Angeles Clippers meeting 7th-seeded Dallas.
In the Eastern Conference, No. 1 seed Milwaukee goes against 8th seed Orlando, 4th seed Indiana versus 5th seed Miami, 3rd seed Boston against 6th seed Philadelphia, and 2nd seed and defending champion Toronto playing the surprising 7th seeded Brooklyn Nets.
Predictions for advancing are, as usual, a guessing game, but in the West, the Rockets in a close one against the Thunder, the Nuggets over the Jazz, the Clippers over the Mavericks, and the Lakers to get past the rejuvenated Trailblazers. In the East, the Bucks are the choice over the Magic, the Pacers turning back the Miami in a probable tight one, the Celtics to top the Sixers, and the Raptors to slip past the pesky Nets, which should challenge next season with the addition of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the current lineup of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddle, Joe Harris and Jarett Allen.