Would Carmelo Anthony ever reunite with the Denver Nuggets?

Would Carmelo Anthony ever reunite with the Denver Nuggets?

Dec. 12, 2019 -- The day future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony stepped back on the Pepsi Center floor in front of his first-ever NBA home crowd.  

A day he feared would never happen.

But, thanks to the Trail Blazers, it did happen.

The Blazers lost to the Nuggets 114-99; however, the game itself was never really a storyline that day.

It was about a reunion after a year of not playing.


Denver improved to 15-8 after the win.

This was a game that Anthony had thought might never happen, in fact, just recently during the NBA hiatus, the Trail Blazers veteran opened up, admitting that he felt like he "hit rock bottom" when his career was in limbo and he was searching for a team to give him another shot.

In his first time back to Denver since he returned from his one-year hiatus, the question on everyone's mind was how would he be received...

We got the answer.

Nuggets fans had buried the hatchet.

Anthony played for Denver for 7 1/2 years before being traded to New York.

Melo's time in Denver eventually soured when speculation began in the 2010–11 season that he wanted out of Denver. It led to some tumultuous times before the trade to the Knicks eventually occurred in February of 2011. 

But, that day on Dec. 12, 2019, there were no grudges.

And, just as the Nuggets fans showed Melo love, the Denver media showed up in droves wanting to hear from the player they used to cover.

Prior to the Blazers taking on the Nuggets, Melo told reporters that if there would've been a chance for him to reunite with the Nuggets, he was “open to it.”

We talked about it. People in my circle were like, ‘Go back to Denver.’ If it was that easy I probably would’ve done it. A lot of things came into play when it comes to that, kind of out of my control at that time, the timing was off. Similar to Portland, the timing has always just been off. All of the sudden that window of opportunity was there [in Portland]. -- Carmelo Anthony

Denver was Anthony’s third-consecutive game against one of his former teams over that week span in early December. Portland lost to Oklahoma City earlier in the week before beating New York and then making their way to Denver.

During that morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center, the 2013 NBA scoring champ, spoke highly of his time in the Mile High City.

“I don’t think I can ever stop appreciating not just the organization but the city as a whole. We were at a point in time where it was a shift, the team had just only won 17 games prior to when we came in. We kind of started or created a different culture here. The uniforms changed, we changed the colors of the uniform, the vibe in Denver was different, the aura in the city, the energy was different. We were a part of that change.”

The Melo Effect was quickly visible after he was selected third overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

The Nuggets improved their win total by twenty-six games in Anthony's rookie season. They had a winning record, they made the playoffs. Melo averaged 2.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, he was the clear reason for their turnaround.

And now there’s just one thing missing in Denver, at least according to Anthony:

The No. 15 hanging from the rafters.

The former Nuggets forward believes it would be fitting to have his number retired in Denver.

This is where it should be retired to be honest with you, just my opinion… I think that the history is here, it’s where it all started. -- Carmelo Anthony after the Dec. 12 game.

Denver has not made such arrangements. Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic currently wears No. 15.

Melo joked that could be a problem.  

“Maybe not because Jokic got 15 now. We’ll see, man. We still got time,” Melo laughed.

Yes, the Nuggets still have time for a man who gave them his heart and soul for seven-and-a-half years.

Anthony played and started in 80 games during the 2005–06 season with the Nuggets, averaging 26.5 points (eighth, NBA), 2.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

That season CLUTCH MELO became a thing.

The year, Anthony made five game-winning shots in the last five seconds:

  • At Houston on January 8,
  • At home vs. Phoenix on January 10 
  • At Minnesota on February 24
  • At Indiana on March 15
  • At home versus the Los Angeles Lakers on April 6

The Blazers know about his game-winning buckets, sorry about your bad luck this season, Toronto.

But, for all the regular season success Anthony had with Denver, there wasn’t much in the way of postseason success. He holds an overall record of 17-38 in playoff games and 10 of his wins came during the Nuggets 2009 run to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Lakers.

Really, though, who could blame Melo for wanting out of Denver? He hadn’t reached his goal of winning it all after being on the Mile High City for over seven years.

It took just one year in college.  

During the 2002–03 season, Melo’s freshmen year, he averaged 22.2 points and guided the Orange to their first-ever NCAA tournament title. 

He had said he was planning to play for Syracuse for a couple of more years before the season started, but after accomplishing his goal of winning a championship he knew he could move on.

The quest for an NBA championship continues now with Damian Lillard and Co.    

Because it sure doesn't seem like Melo is ready to move on.

(By the way, Tuesday’s Trail Blazers Classic Game features Carmelo Anthony vs. Brandon Roy in the epic 2009 Christmas Day battle between the Blazers and Nuggets. Check it out at 6:30pm on NBCSNW.) 

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Since March 6, when it was first reported that Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic was set to make his return following nearly a year-long rehab, Blazers fans have been anticipating the moment of seeing Nurk step on the court once again.   

And instead of Nurkic lacing up his shoes to take on the Houston Rockets in front of the home crowd at Moda Center on Mar. 15, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the NBA was suspended.

But now, with the NBA returning to action in Orlando, Florida at the end of the month, Nurkic along with Zach Collins will be returning to the court.

There's plenty of excitement and anticipation from the Trail Blazers as the two 7-footers get set to return.

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

Damian Lillard wouldn’t share too many details on Portland’s newly-added secret weapons, but judging by the smile on his face during Wednesday’s Zoom call, it’s apparent he couldn’t be happier to get his two teammates back.

They look great. They make me feel way more confident going in just from seeing them -- both of them. Like I forgot, I didn’t forget, but I forgot who they were. Like it's been so long that I almost forgot… You’ve just got to see, man. I can’t share these things. -- Damian Lillard on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins

Blazers coach Terry Stotts added “they both look great… Zach is 100 percent cleared. He looks great. He’s been working out… Zach will be able to play this season without any limitations.”

Coach Stotts doesn’t believe Nurkic or Collins will be on any type of minutes restriction when the team begins play in Orlando. 

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

It was on March 25, 2019 when Nurk suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula late in a home game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Prior to the injury, the Trail Blazers big man averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, both of which were career-highs.

As for Collins, he had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5. 

He was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months.

And now with the NBA’s long layoff, the Blazers feel confident that bringing back their two big men will be even more advantageous since they won’t be the only players needing to shake off some rust.  

Lillard said, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing. You know, our team is really familiar with each other, and I think that just the fact that our starting four and five are coming back from injuries... They’re coming back into a situation where everybody’s in the same boat, so it’s more comfortable. I think it’ll be a little bit more seamless for them. And I think that’s good for our team. So, once we do start playing I think we’ll be able to get it going pretty quick."

Stotts says he is still playing out different starting lineups in his head, saying, “I haven’t ruled out starting Hassan [Whiteside] and Nurk together.”

Think about that starting lineup for a moment:

  1. Damian Lillard
  2. CJ McCollum
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. Hassan Whiteside
  5. Jusuf Nurkic

That’d be a big lineup.

Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea.

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

There’s no doubt that these two bigs have different games.

Both will alter shots at the rim, but of course, Whiteside is the better shot-blocker.

Nurkic is more of a facilitator than Whiteside on the other end allowing Lillard to play more off the ball in the pick-and-roll.

Whiteside does have four more years in the league on Nurkic. Hassan had no problem comparing his game to Nurk's back in March. 

He’s more a pitching big. He passes the ball a little more. He’s more at the free throw line area with his pitches and passes and stuff. I’m more in the paint and under the rim. I’ve been shooting threes a little bit, but I’m more of a guy who likes to get straight to the Baja. -- Hassan Whiteside explaining the difference between his game and Jusuf Nurkic’s game

Nurkic’s “pitches and passes” will be key.

And Coach Stotts agrees.

“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts said Wednesday. “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.”  

And at the other end of the floor, there’s no doubt these two bigs will quickly make an impact.

“One of the things we are going to be better at with the addition of Nurk and Zach is we are going to have more paint protection," Stotts added. "We are going to be a better rebounding team. And I don’t know how much it comes down to necessarily individual defense as much as it does to being a better defensive team."

Portland fans have been chomping at the bit to see a healthy Nurk and Collins.

And so have the Blazers.

“I think everybody is looking forward to what they both bring,” Stotts said. “They have both been out a long time, and both are anxious to get on the court, so they both will have a lot of energy. I think that is going to be contagious.”

As if thinking about getting Nurk back after seeing him sidelined for more than a year isn’t exciting enough, Coach Stotts offered up this salivating nugget on Nurkic:

“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him look. 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.”

Is the best Beast yet to come? That's intriguing. 

Also, is it July 31 yet? 

2020 NBA Season Restart: Teams, format, schedule, location, and odds

2020 NBA Season Restart: Teams, format, schedule, location, and odds

The Trail Blazers and 21 other teams will be back in action before we know it as the NBA prepares to resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida in its pursuit to crown a champion. 

The NBA's restart plan is slated for July 30th, as 22 of the league's 30 teams will head to Orlando later this month to continue a season that was halted March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Trail Blazers first game will be on July 31st vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. (See below for full schedule)

Here's what you need to know for the NBA's return:

When does the NBA season resume?

After what will be a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA's schedule for restarting the 2019-20 season will begin July 30 with 22 teams competing for the NBA championship.

Seeding games will take place from July 30-Aug. 14. Play-in tournaments are scheduled for Aug. 15-16. The NBA playoffs will begin Aug. 17.

What is the return to play format?

The 22 teams in Orlando will include the 16 clubs currently in a playoff spot -- eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference -- and six additional teams within six games of the No. 9 seed in their respective conference.

Each team will play eight "seeding games" to determine playoff seeding in each conference. Those games will be selected from each team's remaining regular-season matchups.

What does this mean for the Trail Blazers?

The Trail Blazers currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the eight-spot. The Trail Blazers have the 5th toughest schedule among the 22 teams competing and the toughest among the teams vying for the 8th seed. Here’s how the Blazers schedule stacks up against the other playoff hopefuls.

The Trail Blazers schedule is tough, but they are hopeful with the return of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic in the lineup.

Which teams will be playing in Orlando?

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards will represent the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, it will be the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

For the Trail Blazers, both Trevor Ariza and Caleb Swanigan will NOT be joining the team in Orlando for personal reasons. 

To assist in their efforts, the Trail Blazers signed Jaylen Adams from the G-League.

2020 NBA League Schedule

Here is the Blazers’ full schedule 

for the team's eight seeding-round games, beginning with a July 31 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies:

NBCSNW will carry all-eight seeding games

Updated odds to win the 2020 NBA Championship

L.A. Lakers: +240
Milwaukee Bucks: +250
L.A. Clippers: +333
Houston Rockets: +1200
Boston Celtics: +2000
Toronto Raptors: +2200
Denver Nuggets: +2500
Philadelphia 76ers: +2800
Miami Heat: +3000
Utah Jazz: +3300
Dallas Mavericks: +4000

Portland Trail Blazers +15000
All other teams have +10000 odds or worse

The New Orleans Pelicans are chosen as the team most likely to make the postseason as a team from the outside looking in at (+275). That's partially because the casino expects the public to want to bet on Zion Williamson, one of the league's most marketable young stars, and a much-easier strength of schedule. 

The remaining odds for the eighth seed in the West are the Sacramento Kings at (+1200) who are 3.5 games behind Memphis currently, San Antonio (+5000) who sits four games behind Memphis but lost LaMarcus Aldridge for the season, the Pheonix Suns (+20000) who are six games behind Memphis and the Dallas Mavericks (+50000) who are currently 7 games ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings. 

As for winning the NBA Finals, the Blazers are seen as an extreme longshot at +15000, which is twice as high odds than they had earlier this month at Ceasars Palace.

Rodney Hood is dunking on more than his rehab  

Rodney Hood is dunking on more than his rehab  

We’ve seen Rodney Hood throw down some pretty nasty dunks as a Trail Blazer. 

But perhaps his best dunk yet came on Wednesday, when the Trail Blazers small forward dunked in practice for the first time (at least on video) since suffering a torn Achilles in December. 

In an 11-second clip shared by the Trail Blazers, Hoodie goes up for the dunk, hangs on the rim, and then comes down, turns around with a huge grin, and raises his hands to the roof while his teammates and training staff applaud him. 

Hood’s progression garnered praise from CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. on Twitter. 

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

There are few things that make us happier than seeing Hoodie back on the hardwood and dunking. 

Six months after he was carried off the court with a ruptured Achilles, Hood returned to the practice facility on June 11, then again on June 23. Trail Blazers big Jusuf Nurkic posted a speculative tweet with the message, “Are Hoodieeee playing in Orlando?” 

Unfortunately, the Portland veteran wing won’t be ready to return to the floor when the Trail Blazers head to the Orlando bubble to resume the NBA season. His target date is expected to be September. 

For now, Hoodie is focused on small victories and dunking again is certainly something worth celebrating.  

[RELATED: Rodney Hood uses down time in rehab to finish his degree at Duke]

Let's re-live some of Kevin Calabro's most memorable play calls

Let's re-live some of Kevin Calabro's most memorable play calls

Portland Trail Blazers Television Play-By-Play announcer Kevin Calabro stepped down Wednesday after four years with the Trail Blazers. 

“It was a very tough decision,” Calabro told NBCSNW’s Dwight Jaynes Wednesday. “But all these years of travel, of being away, this is a good time to bring the focus back to my family.”

Calabro joined the Trail Blazers in June 2016 after spending 21 years as the longtime voice of the Seattle SuperSonics. 

While Calabro’s time on the Trail Blazers sideline was short, fans will always remember him for his legendary calls, including the Damian Lillard “bad shot” over OKC.

Let’s take a look back at some unforgettable calls from Kevin Calabro. 

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE

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

Hassan Whiteside isn't one of the league's best defenders, according to NBA coaches

Hassan Whiteside isn't one of the league's best defenders, according to NBA coaches

The Trail Blazers defense has struggled at times this season, but one person has been a standout from day one: Hassan Whiteside. 

Whiteside, who came over in an offseason trade with the Miami Heat, has done an incredible job filling in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic all season.

His very first night as a Blazer was a 16 point, 19 rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets on opening night. 

From there, he just kept climbing. 

Whitside is statistically having one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 16.3 points and career-highs of 14.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

Whiteside is the league's second-leading rebounder, trailing only Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons (15.2 rpg).

But where he is most untouchable is defensively at the rim. 

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

Whiteside leads the entire league in blocks per game at 3.1. That is nearly a full block more than the two players tied for second, Anthony Davis and Brook Lopez (2.5 bpg). 

Whiteside has 187 blocks on the season, compared to 147 for Lopez and 138 for Davis. Both Lopez and Whiteside have played 61 games, while Davis has played 55. 

Regardless, you think the league's second-leading rebounder and leading shot-blocker would be recognized for their defensive prowess, right? You'd be wrong. 

Jon Krawczynski and Josh Robbins of The Athletic anonymously polled 33 NBA coaches, some head coaches, some assistant coaches, to get their expert opinions. 

The coaches had to vote for the first-team and second-team all-league defensive teams, while 23 of the coaches also voted on Defensive Player of the Year. 

The only rule was they had to vote for two guards, two forwards, and one center for the all-league teams. 

So, where did Whiteside fall?

He fell all the way out of the coaches consciousness. 

Whiteside did not earn first of second-team All-League Defense, he also was not named Defensive Player of Year. 

The really surprising part, however, is that Whiteside didn't even receive a single vote for any of the lists. 

How can the league's leading blocker not even receive a vote for All-League defense? 

According to the coaches' vote, Rudy Gobert was the Center on the first-team, and Bam Adebayo was the Center on the second team. Other centers receiving votes included Brook Lopez, Joel Embiid, Myles Turner, Tristan Thompson, Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Jarrett Allen, and Domantas Sabonis. 

[READ THE ENTIRE LIST HERE]

As for the Defensive Player of the Year, the coaches picked Rudy Gobert, with Brook Lopez and Bam Adebayo being the only other centers to receive votes. 

Here is how Whiteside compares to those three centers:

HASSAN WHITESIDE: 16.3 ppg, 14.2 rpg (10.2 drpg), 3.1 bpg

RUDY GOBERT: 15.1 ppg, 13.7 rpg (10.3 drpg), 2.0  bpg

BAM ADEBAYO: 16.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg (8.0 drpg), 1.3  bpg

BROOK LOPEZ: 11.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg (3.8 drpg), 2.4  bpg

Whiteside averages more points (though that doesn't matter for defense), rebounds, and blocks than the three centers that made the list. The only category any of those centers beat Whiteside in is defensive rebounds, where Gobert averages 0.1 more per game... 0.1! 

When averaged out to a per 36, Whiteside leads in all categories.

HASSAN WHITESIDE PER 36: 18.7 ppg, 16.4 rpg (11.8 drpg), 3.5 bpg

RUDY GOBERT PER 36: 17.9 ppg, 14.5 rpg (10.2 drpg), 2.6 bpg

BAM ADEBAYO PER 36: 17.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg (8.3 drpg), 1.4 bpg

BROOK LOPEZ PER 36: 14.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg (5.1 drpg), 3.3 bpg

However, Whiteside lags behind all three of those players in overall defensive rating: Lopez (99.1), Gobert (106.8), Adebayo(107.7), Whiteside (112.2)

More telling is that his individual defense hasn't led to overall improvements in team defense.

The Bucks lead the league in defensive efficiency (101.6), Utah is 11th (108.8), and Miami is 14th (109.2). The Blazers fall near the bottom, ranked 27th (113.6).

While the Blazers' struggles on defense aren't Whiteside's fault, the numbers show he isn't necessarily helping either.

As for the coaches, they value how a player impacts and changes the team defense over a player's individual numbers. Based on individual numbers alone, Whiteside should be in the conversation with those other centers, not an afterthought.

Again, how does the league's leading shot-blocker not even receive a vote for all-league defense? 

Luckily for Whiteside, the Blazers have at least eight more games for him to put on a defensive show.

Damian Lillard is working out paranoid, but it's not what you think

Damian Lillard is working out paranoid, but it's not what you think

The four-month mark is quickly approaching. 

Yes, it's been nearly four months since the United States and the NBA world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, as the Trail Blazers along with 21 other NBA teams look to resume the 2019-20 season in the ‘Orlando bubble,’ there are still so many question marks, concerns, and so much preparation still to be done.

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is ready to help his team make the jump from the nine spot out West to that eighth and final playoff spot.

He's been happy with his teammate's commitment to staying in shape. 

“I think that just from being in the gym and being around our team that it’s pretty obvious that guys have stayed active,” Lillard said during a Wednesday zoom call. “Everybody’s in pretty good shape. I think the only change… is that it’s real now. At first, it was kind of up in the air. ‘What’s going to be the format? Are we going to be involved?’… Once we knew that it was confirmed that we was coming back -- everybody started getting prepared."

Watching the coronavirus cases spike all over the country, but particularly seeing the numbers rise in Florida, is a cause for concern for the NBA.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on a conference call earlier this week that the league is closely monitoring the situation in Florida and is working closely with health officials. Silver added that he and the league have not ruled out the possibility of the restart getting shut down or the chance of it not being completed. 

Lillard discussed the safety measures the NBA is taking and mentioned that he can’t grade Commissioner Silver and the league just yet. 

Not until they get to Orlando.

It’s a risk obviously. The fact that we’re going to be in a bubble, I think that it kind of knocks it down and limits the chance of us being exposed to everybody else outside of the bubble in Orlando. You know, which is causing the numbers to rise. So, I think it is a safer situation, but I also don’t think it’s possible for them to protect us 100 percent. I think everybody is going there understanding that…I’ve seen people staying inside their houses the entire time and then they go to the grocery store, come back home and basically do nothing and they still come in contact with it, so we’ll see when we cross that bridge, but I do not think there is a way to protect us 100 percent. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard

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

With only one back-to-back, here's how Portland’s regular season schedule shakes out:

  • Friday, July 31 vs. Memphis Grizzlies (1:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Sunday, Aug. 2 vs. Boston Celtics (12:30p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Tuesday, Aug. 4 vs. Houston Rockets (6:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Thursday, Aug. 6 vs. Denver Nuggets (5:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Saturday, Aug. 8 vs. LA Clippers  (10:00a.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Sunday, Aug. 9 vs. Philadelphia 76ers (3:30p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Tuesday, Aug. 11 vs. Dallas Mavericks (2:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Thursday, Aug. 13 vs. Brooklyn Nets (TBD)

Will there be a balancing act of feeling out how players’ bodies will react once games begin after such a long layoff?

For Lillard and the Blazers, there’s no time for that.

“This is basically an eight-game season,” Lillard explained. “And we starting off behind, so we gotta come in there and hit the ground running… We don’t have time to ease our way in. We don’t have time to try and figure stuff out. We gotta come in assertive and aggressive and just go after it. If we fail, we fail. But we got to at least go out there with that mentality of ‘We don’t have time just kind of ease into it.’”

Lillard continued, “It’s eight games, man. Everybody’s going to be rested. We can’t feel it out.”

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers prepare for "big loss" with no Trevor Ariza

The Trail Blazers team captain is solely focusing on his team and not what other teams like Memphis and New Orleans must do to snag that final playoff spot in the West.

Portland currently sits in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies. Sacramento and New Orleans are also 3.5 games behind Memphis.

I feel good about our chances,” Lillard said of making the postseason. “Like I said, getting [Jusuf Nurkic], getting Zach [Collins] back, we’re a different team with those guys. Everybody’s coming back rusty… It’s a neutral site. I feel like it’s fair. I really didn’t look at the schedule of who we play and all that stuff to make me feel any way. The only thing I asked for was the opportunity to make it [to the postseason] and we’ve been given that, so you know, we’re going to show up and do what we got to do. 

Blazers coach Terry Stotts also discussed his team's slate of games, saying, “We’ve got to come to play. We’ve got Memphis right off the bat -- that’s a must-win. Obviously, we’re playing a lot of good teams on our schedule and the advantage to that is we are in ninth place now, so we’ve got to hold serve. I think we all feel like we have a good chance to get into the playoffs.”

Lillard reiterated what so many around the NBA have said over the past few weeks leading up to a resumption of play:

Teams are going to be on an even playing field.

Lillard said confidently, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing.”

In 58 games played this season, Lillard was putting up MVP-type numbers, averaging 28.9 points, 7.8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lillard took his family to Phoenix to get away for a couple of weeks, but since then, he has trained at his home gym and in recent weeks at the Blazers' practice facility. 

Lillard’s training has changed over the past few months.

He admitted with a big smile on his face that he would “probably be tired as hell” if he played in a game right at this moment; but, he said he “could play in a game.” He just didn’t say, yes or no when asked if he was in game shape.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t ready to start training camp next week in Orlando.

Lillard said he “feels good.” He has been working out with a sense of paranoia.

But, it’s not as if this feeling of Lillard's is due to the safety measures of the virus, even though he has acknowledged there is risk while working out and playing basketball during the pandemic. 

No, Lillard has a paranoid feeling because he’s trying trying to keep his body right to prevent injuries.

It was on Feb. 12 in Memphis, when the Blazers point guard suffered a right groin strain as Portland limped into the All-Star break. Lillard returned on Mar. 4 and played in four games before the NBA was suspended.  

Now almost five months after suffering the groin injury and having more time to rehab, rest, and get his body right, Lillard sounds like a point guard who is ready to lead his team to the playoffs.

And, he is also ready to lead his conditioning with little paranoia. 

“I feel pretty good,” Lillard said Wednesday. “Usually when I’m preparing, I’m doing conditioning, I’m lifting and doing individual workouts, like I have been doing. But, I think all this time I’ve been doing it like a little bit paranoid. I don’t want to be coming back and feeling like a bunch of bruises and putting myself in a position where I can get hurt. So, it’s been like -- lifting for power, lifting for agility, lifting for injury prevention --training while I’m in a vulnerable position to where I’m strong in the position... I’ve been doing conditioning at the end of my lifts to where my body is weak and I’m running on a treadmill with the incline at 40, where it’s basically like running straight up a hill.”

Lillard added, “I usually do that training in the morning. I come on to the court at the facility after that. My time has been 10:30 the whole time and then at night time… Our strength trainer for the team [Ben Kenyon], come to the house, six o’clock every night and we do some conditioning and some jump rope, treadmill, some core. So, I’ve been doing a lot, almost paranoid like. 

“I don’t want to be the guy that when it’s time to come back I’m a step behind. Or I’m not feeling good or my body is aching from the lack of activity or stuff like that, so I’ve been on the move.”

Lillard and the Blazers will continue to be on the move when they head to Orlando next week. Teams will travel to Florida beginning July 7 with training camp to follow.

Carmelo Anthony fishing in Bend or boating on Lake Oswego, is comfortable here

Carmelo Anthony fishing in Bend or boating on Lake Oswego, is comfortable here

It has not been a banner 50th anniversary season for the Portland Trail Blazers. In fact, given all that has happened with injuries, games lost that could have been won and, of course, the pandemic, it’s been a disappointment wrapped in a catastrophe.

But one thing, for sure, stands out as a positive:

The signing of Carmelo Anthony.

The Hall of Famer-to-be has averaged 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range. He has made clutch shots and, most of all, been a positive influence on the locker room.

This from a player who was without a team until Nov. 19. And someone a lot of people did not think was a good chemistry guy.

“The perception of Carmelo is so … off,” said Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations. “I mean, he’s a hooper.

“When we talked back in the fall and we were struggling -- we had lost Zach, Nurk’s timeline had been extended -- we realized we needed to do something and Carmelo just wanted to play.

“But he wanted an organization that was going to be honest with him about his role. What could he expect? What’s expected of him?”

The Blazers told him that right from the start, Olshey said.

Then they stuck by it.

“When you have spent seven or eight months living up to what you said -- his role was what we said it was going to be, our style of basketball, how he was treated -- we have lived up to what we told him the environment was going to be like.”

And Anthony has thrived, on and off the court.

“I have to say, he has not only totally bought into the team and the Trail Blazers,” Olshey said, “he’s out in Bend with his son, Kiyan -- a father and son trip -- they were out fishing. He loves the environment, he lives by the lake (Oswego) and I see him out on the water, he and Kiyan and La La (his wife). They really bought in and they love it up here.”

Coach Terry Stotts did not know Anthony prior to his arrival, but he’s said all season how important it was to bring him to Portland.

“I keep saying how fortunate we were that Carmelo came to Portland to begin with,” Stotts said Wednesday. “This has been a tough season, but Melo has been terrific. One more example of who he is as a person.

“When the pandemic broke out, nobody wanted to be in New York, obviously. He and his family are doing well here, he seems very comfortable with where he’s living and the routine that he has -- as much as you can in a pandemic.

“But his leadership, his voice of reason, his demeanor, I think has been very beneficial for everyone.”

Olshey is in the business of trying to recruit free agents to play in Portland and he knows his players, in this strange season, have seen a side to the city and state they don’t normally witness.

“We always talk about, we need to sell guys on basketball -- make sure the basketball is good,” Olshey said. “And then the longer they are a part of this community and this lifestyle, the more they buy into it.

“It’s very hard from the outside. They don’t spend a lot of time here. They come in and play a game and then they leave. 

“One of the hidden blessings of this for the guys on our roster, is they finally got the summer here. It’s one of the things we talk about here, no matter how late we go into the season, it’s still 58 degrees and raining, except the odd day.

“Then it breaks and all of a sudden, it’s glorious. But those guys have moved on at that point.

“It’s been terrific now that Carmelo and Hassan (Whiteside) and Rodney Hood have gotten the opportunity to see what it’s like here in the offseason. The irony is that guys were running all over to spend their offseason and you couldn’t find a more beautiful place than Oregon in the summer.”

And really, a year ago, who would have expected to see Carmelo Anthony and his family cavorting on Lake Oswego in the summer?

Neil Olshey: 'Our guys are dialed in, locked in' and won't give up

Neil Olshey: 'Our guys are dialed in, locked in' and won't give up

Trail Blazer President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been tasked with getting his team’s roster ready for its return to play in Orlando. And he’s been, as a member of the league’s competition committee, a part of the NBA preparations to go there.

So now, as teams grow closer to embarking on this unprecedented journey to a bubbled-up end of a season, how does he feel about going there himself, amid social unrest and global pandemic?

“It’s two-fold,” he said Wednesday. “On one hand, I’m excited to see our guys play again. You know, the season ended so abruptly, we were just getting healthy. We were three days from getting ‘Nurk’ (Jusuf Nurkic) back and Zach (Collins) was on the horizon -- he was about three weeks out from returning. At that point, Trevor (Ariza) was in the starting lineup, so the exciting thing is to see the guys out playing basketball again.

“I missed basketball.”

But at the same time...

“I don’t think anyone can be cavalier about the health risks,” he said. “Our players and our traveling staff have tested negative over the course of our two weeks of mandatory testing. But, it’s a concern, and we have family members concerned about us going into the environment. I do think there will be diligence down there.

“I do think Adam’s (Commissioner Adam Silver) model of trying to make it the safest place in the country, i think the league will do everything in its power to do that. But I can’t tell you that people aren’t concerned about their health.

“And, more than anything, we are used to being away from our families for intermittent periods of time, but certainly not for weeks and months at a time. And certainly not during a major pandemic and a climate of social unrest in our country.”

How does Olshey feel at this point about the league’s chances of pulling this off? Does he think the NBA will manage to crown a champion in Orlando?

“I do,” Olshey said. “I think the league, the players and the players association are resolute. That’s where they’re going.”

And what about his team’s chances of making some noise down there?

“I think one of the things that’s understated is that guys aren’t going to give up,” he said. “We’ve had guys back in this gym since May 8. They’ve stayed in market and they’ve continued to work out with no end in sight for part of that.

“And then they’re going to go to work out for three weeks in Orlando and live in a hotel without the freedom and independence that they’re used to. They’re not doing that to go through the motions and get a paycheck. We’ve had between 90 and 95 percent participation at our practice facility since May 8.

“Guys have stayed. They are dialed in. They are locked in. They’re ignoring whatever the strength of schedule we’re going to face down there. And they’re going down with the mindset that Day One, this is playoff basketball for us.

“We’re training and preparing and we’re going to give it our best shot. One of the things that has been consistent with this group is that this is a group of closers. We’ve always been better the second half of the year. It’s a testament to the character of the guys we have and our coaching staff not burning guys out and keeping them engaged and I think you will see that when we get to Orlando.”

But it won’t be easy. They’re going to have to be ready to handle tough, must-win games immediately.

“We’re going to have to get off to a fast start,” Olshey said. “It’s baptism by fire. We’re three and a half games behind Memphis and we get them on opening day.”

And there is a very small margin for error -- with the virus and the games.

Kevin Calabro: The Trail Blazers 'have taken great care of us'

Kevin Calabro: The Trail Blazers 'have taken great care of us'

Kevin Calabro decided to just step away from the microphone for a while. Not retire, just step away.

“It was a very tough decision,” Calabro said Wednesday. “But all these years of travel, of being away, this is a good time to bring the focus back to my family.”

Calabro, the television voice of the Trail Blazers for the last four seasons, probably couldn’t have picked a better time to take a break.

The NBA is getting ready to deal with a return-to-play scenario that includes the Trail Blazers playing eight games in empty arenas in Orlando, Fla. Media broadcasting those games on a local or regional level will be doing so from studios or arenas in their home city.

Even next season, there is real doubt about the possibility of broadcasting games -- or having fans present -- at NBA game sites.

That makes working those games more of a challenge and, frankly, less fun.

Calabro and his wife, Sue, have maintained a residence in Portland but their home base is still in Seattle. That commute can be difficult in the winter.

Calabro made it clear that he wasn’t leaving because of any problems with the Trail Blazers.

“It has nothing to do with the Trail Blazers,” he said. “They have taken great care of us. That’s what has made the decision so difficult.

“It was just time to do it.”

And this isn’t retirement.

“I’ll always work,” he said. “When I decided I wasn’t going to follow the Sonics to Oklahoma City, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I did a talk show and I even did a year of soccer. I got freelance opportunities -- it was good.”

Calabro even did hockey play-by-play for a season right after college. He’s a great pro able to broadcast just about anything, with what Blazer sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam calls “the best pipes in the business.”

He won’t lack for opportunity.