Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony wins Western Conference Player of the Week after playing Bulls twice in five days

Carmelo Anthony wins Western Conference Player of the Week after playing Bulls twice in five days

Ask Carmelo Anthony what he's most thankful for this holiday season, and it wouldn't be surprising if playing against the Bulls quickly came up in conversation. 

Presumed out of the league for good mere months ago, Anthony just took home Western Conference Player of the Week honors in only his second week since signing with the Trail Blazers. The opponents he faced? The Bulls, the Thunder and — ah, man — the Bulls, again. Portland won all three contests. Something about this doesn't feel incidental.

In those two games against Chicago, Anthony averaged 24 points and 9.5 rebounds on a clean 50% shooting, both from the field and from three. In the first three games of his Trail Blazers tenure, which preceded his ceremonious visit to the United Center last Monday, Anthony was 15-for-44 (34.1%) from the field and 5-for-16 (31.3%) from three. Anthony has dropped 20+ points on the Bulls for four different teams in his career.

Last week in the Western Conference also featured James Harden scoring 60 points in three quarters against the Hawks and Luka Doncic averaging 33/9.3/8 on 45.1% shooting and 22.8 field goal attempts per (yes, that's par for the course for Luka, but we can't lose sight of how ridiculous he is). 

But Anthony snagged the award (*HardenEyeRoll.gif*), and in doing so added to, let's be honest, one of the feel-good stories of the season. In his only non-Bulls game of the week, Anthony dropped 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting against another former team (sorry) in the Thunder. 

Revenge-week Melo scary, I guess. 

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Carmelo Anthony reflects on connection with Chicago after vintage performance against the Bulls

Carmelo Anthony reflects on connection with Chicago after vintage performance against the Bulls

Entering the United Center for a Bulls game, one can usually assume the crowd surrounding them will form a living, breathing canvas of red and black. Especially on a night when the Portland Trail Blazers are in town.

That wasn't the case on Monday.

Sure, you had your Damian Lillard classic home jerseys, your CJ McCollum red alternates. And, of course, the majority of those gathered were dressed in their finest Bulls threads.

But spattered across the arena were flecks of color from a wider palette: Nuggets powder blue, vibrant Syracuse Orange, electric Knicks azure — all bonded, not by a team, but by a player.

Somehow, they were the loudest. 

And who could blame them? The man they all came to see and raucously support, Carmelo Anthony, turned back the clock in Portland's 117-94 drubbing of the Bulls, scoring 25 points and snatching eight rebounds on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-7 from deep). Mere weeks ago, he was deemed out of the league for good. Tonight, he received "Bring Back Melo" chants, even from fans who never saw him play for their favorite team.

"That support, that was the most important thing to hear that tonight," Anthony said of the chants. "From fans, that's Chicago Bulls fans, with me on a whole other team... Those fans didn't have to do that."

He's certainly correct in that, especially given that Anthony never suited up for the Bulls in his career. But the ten days he spent technically a member of the team back in January, after being unloaded in what was effectively a salary dump by the Rockets, are not lost on the Chicago faithful. Nor are they lost on Anthony.

"I think at the end of the day I will always be connected to Chicago some way some how. For years and years my name has always been connected to the Chicago Bulls," he said. Then, with a chuckle, "I was a Bull for 10 days, so, some way some how I will always be connected with that."

That's one connecting point. Another is that tonight's performance marked the fourth team (Nuggets, Knicks, Thunder, Blazers) for which Anthony has dropped 20 points on the Bulls. And he did it in the quintessential Melo fashion — burrowing his head into the belly of opposing defenders, jab stepping to create space, pulling up from behind the three-point line, stroking turnaround jumpers out of the post. At one point, he drove and plastered a dunk across Wendell Carter Jr.'s face, then sank a three-pointer seconds later after Carter turned the ball over trying to inbound.

"I think he likes playing in this building to be honest with you. He's had a lot of good performances in this building since I've been here," Jim Boylen said.

"It felt good. I mean, I been working man. I don't wanna sound arrogant or cocky or anything like that, but it's a humbling situation for me and it's just a testament to all the work I've been putting in," Anthony said of having all his old moves working. "My body feels good. Mentally, I feel good. But that dunk felt good.

"I just, I haven't had an opportunity to do that stuff. That stuff never goes nowhere, you always have that, you just gotta continue perfecting it and stay with it. I just haven't had the opportunity to be in those positions... I have the opportunity now."

His numbers weren't empty, either. With the Bulls actually firing on all cylinders offensively in the first quarter, Anthony notched 12 points in the game's first 12 minutes to keep it a back-and-forth affair. Then, in the third, he caught fire again. The aforementioned five points-in-15-seconds sequence effectively put the Bulls' comeback hopes to bed.

"The boost at the beginning of the game was good, but third quarter was really good to get us — you know, Chicago's a feisty team, the way they came back against Charlotte — to get some separation," Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. "He had good rhythm all game."

"Seeing Melo out there in his bag like that, just in a good rhythm, you know, to see him out there, it was fun to watch," Lillard said. "Our whole bench we were just excited to see him get it going. You know, him being here, it's been fun, and we all welcome seeing his bounce back happen and it's gonna be fun to watch." 

With his 25 points, Anthony passed Alex English for 18th on the all-time NBA scoring list. He acknowledged that milestones of that ilk have started to carry more weight the further along in his career he's progressed, but also stressed that his focus was on the win, his team and his family. Anthony's wife, Lala, was in attendance and, after the game, the two FaceTimed their son on the court.

"It's a great night. I think, for me, it's just taking it one day at a time," Anthony said. "Today was being in the moment, being in the now and focusing on what we need to focus on, which was getting this win, and doing what I have to do — my part — to help this team win. And the ball went in tonight."

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Observations: Bulls-Trail Blazers

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USA TODAY

Observations: Bulls-Trail Blazers

The Bulls fell 117-94 to the Portland Trail Blazers at the United Center on Monday night. Here are observations from the loss:

First-quarter offense

The Bulls only led 28-27 after the first quarter, but their offense looked about as fluid as it has all season. 

At the heart of that was the team’s starting backcourt pair of Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine. Satoransky ended the quarter with seven points and three assists and was a regular entrant to the painted area by way of pick-and-roll with Wendell Carter Jr. (Satoransky had two floaters and a pull-up short-midrange jumper off that action alone).

LaVine, for his part, came out of the gates locked in on both sides of the floor. On the defensive end, he picked up Damian Lillard before the halfcourt line on multiple occasions and ended the frame with a steal and a block. On offense, he was always on the attack, finishing two dunks, ripping a catch-and-shoot three off an inventive action that started with him setting a pick for Satoransky and firing two crosscourt skip-pass assists to corner 3-point shooters.

The team shot 10-for-20 (50%) from the floor in the first and 4-for-11 from 3-point range with six assists. Not mind-bending numbers by any stretch, but the process inspired confidence, if only for one period.

Jim Boylen leaned on LaVine throughout the first, playing him 11:46 of a possible 12 minutes, and the offense clearly benefited from it. That — along with a lot of things — went awry in the second quarter, when LaVine ran into a bit of foul trouble and logged only four minutes. He finished the night with 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

Second-quarter streaks doom the Bulls

Boylen has spoken ad nauseum about the importance of limiting streaks. Streaks doomed the Bulls in the second quarter after an uber-competitive opening frame. 

The Blazers opened the quarter with an 8-2 run on an all-bench unit of Kris Dunn, Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thad Young and Daniel Gafford (that run ballooned to 14-4 even after Boylen subbed Satoransky, LaVine and Markkanen back in). The offense looked completely stagnant. Dunn, specifically, missed five 3-point attempts in the second period, almost all of them wide open.

Down 50-37, though the Bulls did claw their way back into the game with an 11-0 run of their own (to make the score 50-48) over the course of only 1:26 of game time. That run was led in large part by Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine — both of whom the UC was ebullient to see performing well. Markkanen canned two open long-range looks in the first half and finished an and-one to cut the Blazers’ lead to four. Valentine scored seven points in the period and forced a turnover on Skal Labissiere.

The Blazers, though, then closed the quarter on a 12-6 run — a run aided by a couple of defensive lapses in transition by the Bulls — and led 62-54 at half. Things proceeded to really get away from Chicago in the third: Portland won that quarter 30-18 (winning the second and third by a score of 65-44, overall). They never looked back. 

Side note: Aside from that spurt, Markkanen finished the night with 10 points on only seven shots. Not good.

A massacre on the boards

I wrote before the game that the frontcourt was an area the Bulls might look to grab an edge on the Blazers. At the time, it didn’t feel completely misguided. The Blazers, after all, are missing their two most skilled bigs in Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic and entered the game dead last in the league in Reb% and DReb% in the NBA.

But boy was I wrong. The Blazers ended the night with a 61-44 (13-8 offensive rebound) advantage on the glass. It was by far the greatest disparity in the final box score.

Hassan Whiteside — who Boylen warned media of pregame — was especially dominant. He had 13 points, 12 rebounds, and two thunderous blocks (though it felt like more) on the night, and at separate times appeared to beef with both Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford. 

For tonight, advantage Whiteside and the rest of the Blazers frontcourt, whose dominance sucked the energy out of the Bulls in multiple other areas throughout.

Melo looked vintage

Carmelo Anthony finished his grand, ceremonious ~return~ to Chicago with 25 points and eight rebounds on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-7 from 3).

No, it’s not 2009.

In a performance that reflects equally the feel-goodness of Anthony’s arc and a nauseating defensive showing by the Bulls, Melo was positively electric. He head-burrow jab-stepped his way to his best game in years, even dunking on Carter mid-way through the third (to raucous approval by Bulls, Blazers, Syracuse and Nuggets fans scattered around the arena). In the locker room after the game, I was surprised that his temple wasn’t bruised from stabbing it repeatedly with his fingers curled in a ‘three’ shape. 

As a cherry on top of the evening, with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter — with the home side trailing by 26 — an emphatic “Bring Back Melo” chant broke out at the UC. Your 2019 Bulls, ladies, and gentlemen.

Free hot dogs!

With 3:54 left in the game, the Blazers’ Moses Brown bricked two free throws, and in the process won all ticket-holders for the evening free hot dogs. A fun silver lining in a soul-crushing defeat. 

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