As the Portland Trail Blazers prepare for 37 games over the next 67 days and the grind of seven back-to-backs during the Second Half of the Season, the team got back to work Wednesday night.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Carmelo Anthony and Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts spoke about their goals for the Second Half of the season with consistency and improving on the defensive end being at the top of the list.
But for Melo, he also mentioned that there is one Trail Blazer who could be primed for a breakout Second Half.
And the big stage of All-Star weekend helped him get there.
Trail Blazers backup guard, Anfernee Simons, who competed in his first dunk contest Sunday, was pegged as a +250 underdog to win the contest, the worst odds in the bunch.
Simon's competition, New York's Obi Toppin came in at +140, while Indiana's Cassius Stanley was the favorite at +115.
But the 21-year-old's determination shone through and so did his creativity, along with his athleticism, as he was crowned the 2021 Slam Dunk Contest champion.
His teammates and Coach couldn’t have been more proud of him.
“I was really happy for him,” Coach Stotts said with a smile following Wednesday’s practice. “It was a great opportunity for him and he made the most of it… It was pretty special. I was proud of him.”
Anthony felt the same way.
But due to the ongoing pandemic, Melo believes that made it even more special.
“And I know how much it meant to him too. That’s a big moment for him,” Melo said.
Simons impressed this year’s esteemed judges of Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Jason Richardson, Dee Brown and Josh Smith with three very unique dunks.
Melo says he has a video of himself “going crazy” as he watched Simons win it all Sunday evening.
Through 32 games this season, Simons is averaging 8.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game.
But now Melo believes that the third-year guard is primed to do even more in the Second Half of the season after putting on a show at All-Star weekend.
"It’s nothing, but a confidence booster. You realize that, ‘okay, I’m on this stage. I’m on the biggest stage when it comes to basketball and eyeballs and everybody is watching."
Simons could definitely see an increase in usage.
Damian Lillard pointed out last week with the grind of the Second Half schedule, there could be games where he sits out to rest in order to stay fresh for the Blazers postseason run.
But for now, the Slam Dunk king and the Trail Blazers will get set to host the Phoenix Suns Thursday night before heading out on a road back-to-back against the Minnesota Timberwolves.