NEW ORLEANS –Tuesday night had a different vibe in the air, even before future NBA Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony stepped foot in the arena.
Anthony wasn’t just making his debut for the Portland Trail Blazers, he was returning to the life he has always known. He was returning to the life he has always loved.
The excitement that exuded from him was also felt from peers, Pelicans fans, and those who work in and around the league.
It was a night of hugs, emotions, fouls, buckets, getting acquainted with each other, and so much more for a player who hasn’t played in the league since November 8 of last year.
And most importantly for Anthony, he felt great.
“It felt great to be back into the flow of the game, be back on the court, be back to where I think I belong at, just be out there with the guys again, more so the routine – the team bus, team lunch… That’s the routine that I’ve been used to for 17 years now… As far as the game goes, it felt great to get back out there,” Anthony said postgame.
Portland dropped its 10th game of the season after the Pelicans came up with a big third quarter to take a 115-104 victory.
Anthony started alongside backup point guard Anfernee Simons in place of an injured Damian Lillard, who was out due to back spasms.
It didn’t take long for Melo to get on the scoreboard Tuesday.
At the 10:50 mark in the first quarter, he drained his first three-point attempt.
The Blazers hung around with the Pelicans even though they were working through adding a player, who has yet to practice with them.
Not only has Melo not be given the chance to run up and down on the practice court with the Blazers, but he feels he hasn’t been able to fully digest this new chapter in his life.
Instead, it's go-time for Melo.
“Going from just getting that phone call to really solidifying that and making it happen, and to coming here and playing my first game, not really having a chance to kind of take it all in and think about it, and reflect on it, it’s – you gotta go, there’s no time for that,” Anthony added.
Clearly, Anthony has been playing in several pickup games and his workouts have not included NBA referees officiating his game. In his first game back, it was obvious Anthony is going to have to get used to having fouls called against him again.
He admitted the game has changed in his time away from the court. "Within a year the game has changed. The physicality of the game has changed, the way that they call the game, the way that the game is played changed.”
The 35-year-old finished with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting to go along with his four rebounds, one block and five personal fouls.
Trail Blazers starting small forward Rodney Hood believes Melo’s scoring output could’ve easily doubled if he had some calls go his way.
“It could easily turned to a 20-point night for him, if got a couple of those calls, get to the free throw line, and stuff like that, but he was real aggressive, real patient… He looks good, obviously he hasn’t played in awhile, and as he gets more acclimated he’ll get better and better,” Hood said postgame.
Not only did Anthony have zero practices with the Blazers under his belt, he also didn’t even get to run through shootaround with the team because the Blazers were coming off a game in Houston on Monday night.
Inserting a new player fifteen games into the season obviously presents its challenges.
For Hood, it was all about feeling each other out.
“Sometimes it can be difficult, but you just feel it out. We turned the ball over a lot during that first few minutes, just trying to feel each other out, which it was expected, get some of the rust off. He’s going to be an integral part of our offense, so we’ve gotta continue to use him, get acclimated with him. Tonight was a great practice even though it was a game,” Hood said.
The Blazers and Melo will now try to get acclimated a little more and get set for Thursday’s tough test against the Bucks.