Carmelo Anthony had a vision Wednesday night, a vision of No. 7 hanging in the rafters of Madison Square Garden

Carmelo Anthony had a vision Wednesday night, a vision of No. 7 hanging in the rafters of Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK CITY – New Year’s Day had been circled on New York Knicks fans and media's calendars since the Trail Blazers signed Carmelo Anthony back on November 19th.

Even though it wasn’t the outcome Anthony wanted, it was a night full of cheers, hugs, picture taking and smiles all around.

Wednesday night was the Trail Blazers fifth straight loss after the Knicks took control in the fourth quarter, but it was also a night that the city of New York City celebrated Anthony.

“The love was definitely felt tonight -- from the fans that were here, just from the city as a whole. Just being back, I think that feeling is kind of hard to explain, but for me to get that kind of ovation, I think I’ve always gotten the love from the city like that. To be back in this building where I spent so many years, that love felt extremely good tonight,” Melo said after Wednesday’s loss. 

While waiting for Melo to talk with the media after the game, the swarm of New York reporters reminisced about what once was with the future Hall of Famer playing in NYC.

Reporters, fans, and Melo all had that sense of nostalgia.

Knicks fans showered Anthony with a loud ovation from introductions to the final minutes when he was sitting on the bench and they chanted, "we want Melo!"

The 35-year-old admitted he didn’t know exactly what to expect when it came to how the fans would receive him.

“I was prepared for whatever. Mentally, I was prepared. It wasn’t something that I actually spent a lot of time thinking about. I wanted to come in and have a good game, try to win the game and be a part of this environment once again.”

Melo beamed while talking about how it felt to be back.  

Being back on that court it’s special. – Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony postgame  

It was a special night, and a big scoring night for him personally. He finished with a season-high 26 points on an efficient 11-for-17 shooting to go along with seven rebounds.

It was also a night he had a vision about the future.

When Anthony was asked postgame if he thinks his No. 7 jersey would eventually be retired by the Knicks, he responded with a smile and said, “I don’t know you have to ask them.”

But, that doesn’t mean Melo wasn’t thinking about that possibility.

I did glance up at the rafters today during the National Anthem. They say in life that you’ve got to envision, so I was envisioning it hanging up there. 

As Melo walked out of the visitor's locker room, he was stopped for a couple of photo opportunities; he also shook hands with some of the MSG employees.

The love wasn’t just felt from the fans. Many who worked at MSG loved Anthony as well.

It’s hard to think that his vision of No. 7 being retired one day wouldn't happen.

That could be the ultimate way to show their love for Melo.  

Carmelo Anthony delivers poignant message as SLAM guest editor: 'ENOUGH is ENOUGH' 

Carmelo Anthony delivers poignant message as SLAM guest editor: 'ENOUGH is ENOUGH' 

For years, Carmelo Anthony has served as one of the NBA's loudest voices. 

Now, the Trail Blazers forward is using his platform to speak out about racial inequality and systemic racism in America, and he won't go about it quietly.

Over the weekend, it was revealed that Melo is stepping into a new arena as guest editor of the latest edition of SLAM Magazine. The 10-time NBA All-Star is heading up an issue that focuses on social justice and activism as seen through the lens of basketball.

On the cover, Melo and his son Kiyan both wear black hoodies with the powerful words “It stops now,” written across the bottom. 

In his letter as editor-in-chief, Melo referenced police brutality victims and urged for equality for all in America. 

I CAN’T BREATHE! I STILL CAN’T BREATHE! MY ARMS ARE UP SIR! What did I do? Can you please tell me what I’ve done?” he wrote. “Will you ever take your knee off our necks? Is it because I’m Black? Does that scare you? Am I intimidating? What is it? WHAT IS IT?” 

You know what: ENOUGH is ENOUGH.

I want you to know that I don’t just speak for myself. I speak for all of us. We have to keep on pushing. We will continue to make progress. We are trying so damn hard. We can’t stop now.

Don’t lose focus. Don’t lose sight of why we are in this fight.

The new SLAM issue includes essays from sports legends like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Spencer Haywood, as well as a WNBA roundtable with Sheryl Swoopes, Angel McCoughtry and Lexie Brown.

100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to charities supporting issues impacting the Black community. Fans who want to get their hands on the Melo edition can preorder The Social Justice Issue here.

[RELATED: Trail Blazers look to continue to advance discussions on social injustice in Orlando]

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Blazers TV analyst Lamar Hurd].

Portland Trail Blazers to play multiple scrimmages ahead of resumed season

Portland Trail Blazers to play multiple scrimmages ahead of resumed season

With the NBA set to resume at the end of the month in Orlando, Florida, one of the primary concerns will be the rust of many players who haven't played a competitive game since March.

To make the NBA's return have a high quality of play with little time for players to get into a rhythm, the NBA has announced that teams will participate in inter-squad scrimmages from July 22-28, ahead of the NBA's resumption on July 30.

The Blazers will play three scrimmages:

  • Thursday, July 23 vs Indiana at 12:30 p.m. PT
  • Sunday, July 26 vs Toronto at 3:00 p.m. PT
  • Tues, July 28 vs Oklahoma City at 3:00 p.m. PT 

The Pacers will be without star Victor Oladipo who decided to opt-out of the NBA's return in Orlando citing injury concerns. 

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Blazers TV analyst Lamar Hurd].

Portland will resume the NBA season officially on July 31 vs the Memphis Grizzlies, who the Trail Blazers trail for the eighth seed by 3.5 games, at 1:00 p.m. PT on NBC Sports NW. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

Teams are expected to arrive in Orlando from July 7-9 where a training camp will continue leading up to the season's restart. 

Trail Blazers look to continue to advance discussions on social injustice in Orlando

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Trail Blazers look to continue to advance discussions on social injustice in Orlando

The Trail Blazers know they have a unique opportunity when play resumes.

This week, both Blazers coach Terry Stotts and Portland’s leader Damian Lillard spoke about their plans to not allow the NBA’s resumption to take away from the current social injustice movements.

“I don’t know if we’ll necessarily do anything as a team or not,” Stotts said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know the circumstances down in Orlando and how things are going to go, but I think the most important thing, personally, and I’m sure the players feel the same way, is that the conversation continues. We’ve got a great platform in Orlando… There will be a lot of media attention, obviously. So, I think that my message to the players is keep the conversation going.”
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

 

Lillard, who attended a Black Live Matter march in Portland last month, believes the NBA has a real opportunity to use its platform to make statements and continue to support the black community when play resumes.   

Obviously there will be a lot of eyes on us in Orlando. So I do agree with the fact that it’s an opportunity for us to make statements with the amount of people that’s going to be watching -- whether that’s together, before games, during games, after games, TV commercials, whatever that might be, I do see some opportunities in that.  -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

Coach Stotts reiterated that it will be very important for the Trail Blazers and the NBA as a whole to continue the social injustice discussions.

I’ve spoken with all the players individually about it. I think the most important thing is that we keep the conversation going and I’ve been really proud of our guys and how they’ve supported the movement and how they’ve expressed themselves and how they approach social injustice, racial injustice.  -- Blazers coach Terry Stotts

The 22 NBA teams participating in the restart in Orlando will travel to Florida between July 7-9. Training camp will begin once all 22 teams are in the ‘quarantine-bubble.’ The first slate of games are set to tip-off on July 30.

Portland will face Memphis in its first game of the restart on July 31.

Jusuf Nurkic could see some power forward minutes, wants to shoot more threes

Jusuf Nurkic could see some power forward minutes, wants to shoot more threes

“I’m [as] healthy as possible.” -- That is how Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic started off his Friday morning Zoom interview.

And that’s what all of Rip City loves to hear.

The talk of the town lately has been all about getting a healthy Nurk and Zach Collins back as the Trail Blazers get set to head to Orlando to resume the 2019-20 season.

The starting lineup will of course look different.

Blazers Coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make, but has already said he anticipates a couple of big lineups.

So, does Nurk view Hassan Whiteside as a threat for starting minutes?

Nah, he knows he and Whiteside can and should work together.  

“You can look at [it] whatever you want. It ain’t no competition, it’s my teammate. All my teammates… should be here to win the game. And, you know, coach obviously has one job to figure out all the minutes and the roles,” Nurkic said Friday.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

The Blazers starting lineup will probably vary depending on matchups, but one possibility is Nurk and Whiteside playing alongside each other.

The Bosnian Beast mentioned how he could see some action at the power forward position.

To have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum along with Carmelo Anthony and Nurkic and then Whiteside anchoring the middle would be a lineup that a lot of team’s would need to adjust their own lineup to in order to defend such a big team.

Nurkic says he is ready to fill whatever role Coach Stotts decides for him.

“I think we just need to fill in role with what the coach supposed to give us and what he think is the best for us and for the team,” Nurk added. “That's his part of the job, but I went down as a center, so I'll be back at the center. If I'm going to play some minutes at the four – yeah, I think [after] talking to the coach, I will definitely play some four.”

The 7-footer understands that in the few days left before the Blazers travel to Orlando to enter the quarantine bubble, he has one job:

Get in the best shape possible before Portland tips off its first game against Memphis on July 31, while Stotts figures out the rest.

“It’s just a matter of what [Coach Stotts] thinks is the best for the team -- that’s his part of the job to figure out. My part is -- I'm going to be as healthy as I’ve probably ever been.”

Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea before the season was suspended.

Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out.  -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic acknowledged that with the global pandemic, and thus the NBA hiatus, it has been extremely helpful for him to continue to work on getting his body right. 

“We'll see… what's my wind look like, but I definitely think, going to [training] camp and to the games with no restrictions, especially minutes, it's just a huge part in this and [the coronavirus pandemic] gave it to me,” Nurkic said.

Nurkic also says he “knows” he’s going to come back “a better player.”

In 72 games during the Trail Blazers 2018-19 season, the Blazers starting center averaged a career high 15.6 points, to go along with 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.
[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

And now that we’ve seen the social media videos of the Bosnian Beast getting up plenty of threes, the question remains: Will Nurkic be more of a threat from deep now?

Over his six-year career, he has attempted a total of 42 three-pointers.

Of those 42, he has made three, which all came in the 2018-19 season with Portland.

He went 3-of-29 that season.

So while coach Stotts will most likely need to see a little more consistency out of Nurk to give him the green light from deep, Nurkic says his shooting touch has always been there, but he plans to take more threes when he finally makes his return. 

I feel great. I mean, like I said, during this process and then just being on a bench in a suit and you see a lot of different perspectives…. I feel… I have [had] a great touch from day one I arrived to the league. So, I think the shooting part, I guess is just about coach and what the team needs, and I definitely feel I'm going to shoot more this year now. And I'm capable of shooting those, I just, you know, need to consistently, and I've been working for a while now and it’s just not something I really consider a new thing. It just now more allowed me to work on it. -- Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic

We’ll have to wait and see if the big fella will be letting ‘em rip from long distance, but for Coach Stotts, he is most looking forward to Nurk being back as a facilitator on that end of the floor; however he is open to the idea of Nurk putting up more threes.

Nurk’s been getting his threes up. I’ve said for a long time I think he has a really good-looking stroke. I think he’s going to continue to improve. He’s still a young guy and I think his three-point shooting will evolve. His strength is still going to be in the paint… But, I’ve never discouraged him from shooting threes. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts

“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts added. “Dame and CJ really had to work hard for their points, and I think with [Nurk's] passing both out of the post and on our spacing sets, that’s going to make things a little bit easier… Dame and Nurk’s pick-and-roll was one of the best in the league for the last couple of years. So, that’s going to be an important part of our offense.” 

But, we all know that having Nurkic back in general is an important part of the Blazers push for the playoffs. 

Signing guard Jaylen Adams means load management for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

Signing guard Jaylen Adams means load management for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

There’s a phrase thrown around in the NBA a lot that some people frown upon.

That phrase is load management.

But, there’s not just one way of going about managing a player’s minutes and allowing star players to get rest well into the season.

When big name players sit out a game or two due to ‘load management’ fans usually aren’t happy about it.

That makes sense.

The Trail Blazers; however, have not been a team to sit Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum out of a game for resting purposes.

The Blazers as an organization allow their players ‘load management’ in a different way.

Over the past couple of seasons, Lillard has talked about how he will sit out of certain drills or scrimmages in a practice in order to save his legs for the games.

So the Blazers don't mess with load management during games, but rather practices. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

And now with the Trail Blazers heading to Orlando to embark on the eight-game regular season restart, which includes a three-week training camp before games tip-off, Lillard and McCollum will need to try and stay fresh, and ready for the grind as the Blazers hope to make the postseason.

And that’s where signing backup point guard Jaylen Adams comes in.

Days after it was reported that starting small forward Trevor Ariza is opting out of returning with the Blazers and instead committing to a one-month visitation window to see his 12-year-old son, the Trail Blazers signed G-League star guard Jaylen Adams.

No, the Blazers didn’t pick up Adams to fill in for Ariza.

Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey explains it best:

“You have to send out the message to the league that he’s replacing Trevor Ariza, [but] he’s clearly not ‘replacing’ Trevor Ariza,” Olshey told our Dwight Jaynes while using air quotes around the word ‘replacing.’

[RELATED]: Some reasons the Trail Blazers signed a point guard rather than a small forward

And yes, that’s been the hang up for fans.

That’s where there was some confusion -- Why would you add a guard when your starting small forward has opted out of returning to play?  

Again, we need to go back to load management.

“When you look at it, Damian and CJ, play over 40 minutes a game in the playoffs,” Olshey said. “We’ve got a three-week training period down in Orlando including three scrimmages, clearly we’re going to be managing the load on Dame and CJ before they have to go play eight games in the 13 days including a back-to-back, and hopefully a play-in game or two and then hopefully into the playoffs. So a point guard was more critical in terms of load management for our two best players than it was us thinking that we were going to find a player who hadn’t been traded at the trade deadline, who hadn’t been bought out, who wasn’t eligible on Mar. 1, who was going to be capable of replacing our best wing defender and a guy who was shooting 40 percent from three with us.”

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts echoed the same sentiments.

“With Trevor being out, obviously, the guys that we have we felt comfortable with filling some of those minutes,” Stotts said. “And really the thinking was we’re going to have three weeks of practice and we have low numbers, we’ve got plenty of wings, we’ve got plenty of bigs, and to be able to have good practice without overusing Dame and CJ was important. That was the primary concern.”

Anfernee Simons is the only other Trail Blazer besides Lillard and McCollum who saw meaningful time at point guard this season.

“When you look at our roster right now we have a hole at backup point guard,” Stotts added. “If something were to happen with Dame or CJ there’s a hole there and we need to be able to fill that in the event that that happens as well.”   

Thus, Adams will undoubtedly be helpful at the one position for practices and scrimmages.

The 24-year-old went undrafted in 2018 after playing college ball for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. He earned co-Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2018.

In August of 2019, Adams signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. During training camp with Milwaukee, he was cut and assigned to the Bucks’ G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd.

Adams averaged 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game for the Herd during the 2019-20 season, while earning All-NBA G-League First Team honors and was also the G-League MVP runner up to Wisconsin Herd's Frank Mason III.

And now he will be the primary candidate to assist in load management for Portland's two star guards. 

Jusuf Nurkic says 'I feel like I know more...basketball just slowed down for me'

Jusuf Nurkic says 'I feel like I know more...basketball just slowed down for me'

Way back, at a point during a rehabilitation process that must have felt as if it would never end, Jusuf Nurkic made what sounded like a promise.

It was in Phoenix, after an individual workout in December:

“I’m not expecting myself to just do the rehab; I want to get better, so I want to get better as a player, better as a person,” he said. “I see a lot of things differently from the court, from the bench, and in the locker room… I’ve been there, like a totally different person to see the different perspective and I feel like I can help even more.”

There have been a lot more of those individual practices, as COVID-19 has limited players to solitary workouts with one coach. Prior to that, there have been a lot of games to watch from the bench, wearing a suit instead of a uniform. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

And as Nurkic readies for the trip to Orlando and his first game in about a year and a half, he believes he’s going to make good on that promise he made on a day that seems now so very long ago.

“I know it,” he said Friday during an online media conference, where he appeared to be thinner than we’ve seen him. “I mean, I definitely look better, feel better. I’ve been working my body from Day One. As far as the basketball standpoint, I’ve studied more the game of basketball.”

He says he’s paid attention to diet and tried to build muscle. All the time in the gym has allowed him countless hours of practice on his shooting, where he’s extended his range past the three-point line.

But his biggest improvement might be on the mental side of the game, which pays off in decision making, fewer mistakes, increased confidence and more positive contributions in many ways.

What has Nurkic learned more about while observing from the sidelines?

“The way we play,” he said. “The way teams play. I just feel like I know more. I just feel like basketball just slowed down for me.

“That’s the benefit.”

Will you hear Zach Collins talking trash in Orlando? Yep, probably loud and clear!

Will you hear Zach Collins talking trash in Orlando? Yep, probably loud and clear!

Zach Collins doesn’t back down to anyone.  

We’ve all seen it -- that look in his eye when someone is coming at him on the court both literally and figuratively.

Klay Thompson has definitely seen it.

It’s that mentality of 'don’t mess with me or any of my teammates' that has earned Collins much love and respect from his teammates and Trail Blazers fans.

And, it’s probably fair to deem Collins a professional trash talker.

Now, his words could be on full display in the unusual Orlando bubble setting.

The NBA is still exploring how television broadcasts will look and sound with no fans in attendance.

But, we have to imagine that even with fake crowd noise pumped in and/or music being played at the arena, there’s still a much better shot of hearing players on the court with no fans in the crowd.

YEP. We are about to hear ALL the trashing talking.  

“It's honestly something I think about all the time, actually,” Collins said with a big smile during Thursday’s Zoom call.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

The third-year player, who says his left shoulder ‘feels great,’ is not only healthy enough to play in Orlando, but he’s also prepared to let the world hear all of his typical trash talking.  

Collins continued, “Not even just for me, but like, there's definitely things said on the court that are not for the faint of heart, for sure… It's gonna be interesting to see how the NBA handles that. I watched the UFC came back and they had no fans and you can hear everything... You can hear the guys in the ring like every hit, you know, everything. So I think it's going to be something similar and I don't know how it's going to be on TV, but obviously, when we're on the court together -- we might be able to hear the other team's time out in the huddle unless they put music on or something, I don't know. So it'll be very interesting to see how they handle it. It's definitely something to think about.”

[RELATED]: A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title' 

Does this unique situation mean Collins is going to ratchet back his trash talking?

Nope.

Not even a little bit; well, maybe.

I'm not going to change. So y'all might hear some pretty vulgar language coming out of my mouth, but, you know, I don't know. I don't know. We'll see. I'll try to play it by ear. I don't want to change how I play and how I talk. But, we'll see. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

It sounds like Zach’s mom might need to brace herself for this restart.

Honestly though, hearing Collins bad-mouth his opponents here and there won’t be a surprise to most.

But, Big Z did mention that Anfernee Simons could shock some folks with how vocal he can be.  

“I think honestly you might hear Anfernee more than you would think, especially with no background noise. He's going to be a little bit louder... I think especially for you guys, you guys watch us so closely and are there all the time -- practices, games. So I think you guys have a pretty good idea of who was a talker, who's not. But I think the whole world or kind of get a chance to see who communicates and who talks trash on the court the most. Yeah, so we'll see. It'll be interesting.”

Interesting indeed!

This is definitely an extra layer to the NBA restart that we are all waiting to hear. 

Zach Collins says he has 'no limitations' with left shoulder

Zach Collins says he has 'no limitations' with left shoulder

The NBA hiatus was a blessing in disguise for Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins.

The 2019-20 season, Collins' third season in the league, was supposed to be a season that saw Zach Collins starting at the four and him showcasing his improved patience on the defensive end while also taking a bigger leap forward in the scoring department as well.  

But then, he played in just two and a half games, basically.

Rewind to Oct. 27th in the third game of the 2019-20 season when the Blazers visited the Dallas Mavericks. Collins got tangled up with Luka Doncic when they both went for a rebound with 2:01 left in the third quarter.

That’s when it happened. Collins came down holding his dislocated left shoulder.

The 7-footer shared an update on his shoulder during a Thursday Zoom call.

“It feels normal. It feels like a regular shoulder, so I’m good.”

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

After some deliberation with team doctors and his family, Collins and the Blazers both decided it was best for Collins to have shoulder surgery when looking at the long-term plan of the young 21-year-old's career.

Collins had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5 and was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months. 

Now fast-forward through a nearly three-month NBA layoff and Collins has been cleared to play with an expectation that he won't have any minutes restriction either. 

The shoulder feels great. No limitations. I have had no reason to believe that it will hold me back from doing anything. I feel pretty normal on the court like the surgery didn’t even happen, so I’m ready to go. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins 

Due to the COVID-19/NBA protocols, Collins and the rest of the Blazers have only been able to do individual workouts and thus Collins hasn’t gone through a full-contact workout yet. But, he has tested his shoulder in the weight room and with flexibility tests.

[RELATED]: Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

During his individual workouts, Collins says he has been getting up a lot of shots and working on his conditioning.

“Once we get to Orlando, hopefully we’ll hit the ground running and be as close to game shape as possible,” Collins added.

The 22 teams will travel to Orlando from July 7-9. Once teams are quarantined in the Walt Disney World bubble they will begin team practices during a three-week training camp. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

Wednesday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts mentioned that Jusuf Nurkic is in the best shape that he’s seen from him over the past few years.  

“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen [Nurkic] look,” Stotts said. “He has good muscle tone, he doesn’t look thin, he looks strong. I don’t know what his body-fat [percentage] is, but honestly, from a physical standpoint, it’s the best I’ve seen him.”

And if he does say so himself, Collins is feeling good about his body right now too.

I'm sitting between 245 and 250 pretty consistently every day. And that's, that's about where I was when I got injured. I was probably a little heavier when I got injured. I wasn't exactly in the best game shape yet, but I was probably the same. And now I'm sitting at 245 to 250. I feel a lot stronger everywhere... I definitely don't feel light or skinny or anything. I feel good. – Zach Collins

Heading into this season, with the Trail Blazers planning on starting Collins at power forward, he was all-in on that plan.

And now with Trevor Ariza opting out of going to Orlando, the expectation is Carmelo Anthony will move over to the starting small forward role.

That leaves the four spot open for Collins.

“If I do play a lot at the four, it’s going to be a lot more perimeter orientated,” Collins said last summer. “I never really want to get away too much from being inside and being effective inside. But, if I can find playing time at the four, then I’m all for it, and I’m going in and I’m going to attack that and try to be the best four I can be. If I’m the five, same thing.”

Let the big summer of Big Z begin. 

A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title'

A healthy Zach Collins says, 'We know we have a shot to win a title'

The Trail Blazers obviously face an uphill battle in Orlando when the NBA returns to play in a month.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of confidence on a team that once thought, prior to injuries, it was going to be in the race for a championship.

Injuries heal, though, and the Trail Blazers’ confidence is high. One of those injured players, Zach Collins, figures to reclaim his starting power-forward spot in Orlando, fully healed from a shoulder injury during the season’s third game.

And he says his squad is supremely confident.

“We know we have a shot to win a title, regardless of seeding,” Collins said Thursday during a Thursday online conversation with media. “We’re confident, man.

“The fact that we have had a very trying -- not me, I wasn’t playing through it -- our team has had a very tough year, as far as injuries, and wins and losses.

“The fact that we still have a chance, I think everybody is super excited. Along with that, me and Nurk coming back is going to be huge.”

Certainly it will be very important. 

But keep in mind, the road just to get into the 16-team playoff field is going to be a rough one.

The Trail Blazers will need to keep pace with Memphis, while fighting off the New Orleans Pelicans. Portland has six plus-.500 teams on its eight-game seeding schedule and the Pels have just two.

But if the Blazers can stay within four games of Memphis and edge out New Orleans, they will earn the right to face the Grizzlies in a play-in series.

Portland would then have to beat Memphis twice in a row while the Grizzlies would need just one win over the Trail Blazers.

Keep in mind, this is all in Orlando, where there will be no homecourt, Moda Center, advantage.

And even if that is accomplished, all it likely earns Portland is a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series against LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers.

And everyone knows how difficult the Western Conference playoffs can be, even if the Lakers could somehow be vanquished.

“I wish Rodney (Hood) could be out there with us, that would make us even more dangerous, obviously,” Collins said. “But the team we have now, the guys who had to step up and play big minutes this year, they just got so much experience and got so much better.

“And now we’re going to come back as close to full strength as possible without Rodney. We’re just super confident.

“Honestly.”