PORTLAND, Ore. — The Carmelo Anthony experiment is going very well.
The Portland Trail Blazers are 4-4 since the veteran superstar signed with the team, but they've won four of five since Portland unveiled its new starting lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Anthony, Hassan Whiteside and Rodney Hood.
That lineup has now become the Blazers' most-used five-man unit this season. They've been elite on offense, scoring 125.3 points per 100 possessions, which has made up for a mediocre defense (115.2 points per 100). Overall, they're outscoring opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions.
Anthony has been better than expected, averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game and shooting 44.8% from the field and 38.7% from the 3-point line in 31.0 minutes per game. His gravity on offense has made things easier for his teammates.
The Blazers are still four games below .500 but they've climbed to within a game of eighth place in the West. With a home-heavy schedule and a lot of winnable games this month, things are looking up in Portland.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we discuss Carmelo Anthony's impact on the team, talk about what has impressed us most about the Blazers over the past five games, debate whether the team can sustain their recent success, and make predictions for the next three games, including Friday's big game against the Lakers.
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1. What has impressed you most about the Blazers over the past five games?
Nate: Carmelo Anthony’s consistency and the Blazers' offense suddenly resembling the top five offense we've become accustomed to seeing over the last couple seasons. Last week, we discussed whether we believed Melo could average as much as 18 points per game. Orlando and I thought that was too high, but Jared believed it could be his ceiling. Over these last five games, he's averaged 19 points per game and has been an efficient shooter. Melo's production, and the threat he brings has transformed an offense that looked stagnant prior to his arrival. Over these five games, Portland's offensive rating is back in the top five and they have the third-best shooting percentage in the league. You can argue they've played poor competition, which is fair, but the Blazers weren't putting up these numbers against bad teams before Melo’s arrival. Damian Lilllard is only averaging 21 points per game and the Blazers offense is firing on all cylinders. Lillard has averaged 8 assists per game, which shows he is finding his teammates in spots where they can succeed.
Jared: What has impressed me the most has been the Blazers' high-scoring offensive balance. Against the Kings, CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony all scored 20 points or more. The last time that happened was in the 2015 playoffs with Lillard, McCollum, Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge achieving the feat, according to Mike Tokito. What's been most impressive is how close the Blazers have been to doing that on multiple occasions over the past five games. Against the Thunder, Lillard, McCollum and Whiteside all scored more than 20 and Anthony was one point away with 19 points. And against Chicago, Lillard, McCollum and Anthony all scored more than 20, and Rodney Hood nearly joined them with 19 points. Whiteside only had eight points in that game, but we'll forgive him. He was busy racking up 15 rebounds and a franchise-record 10 blocks. Adding one more high-octane scorer in Carmelo Anthony to this lineup has been exactly what this offense needed. After years of watching Blazers other than Lillard and McCollum struggle to support their two stars on offense, this is a breath of fresh air.
2. The Blazers have won four of five, and though they surely won't win 80% of their games going forward, do you expect the Blazers to sustain the improved level of play they've shown over the past five games? Has the team righted the ship?
Nate: If the Blazers stay healthy, they can sustain this level of play, they have righted the ship and will make the playoffs. That's right, I'm back on board. Last week, I talked about all the things Portland needs to happen on a nightly basis in order to win games. That has continued for another week. Melo is another offensive weapon the defense must respect. The Blazers have gotten the best five-game stretch from Hassan Whiteside that they’ve had all season. He appears to have a stronger connection with Lillard and better understands what is expected of him in the flow of this offense. The bench continues to fill their identified roles and has kept the Blazers afloat, so the starting five can build leads and put away games. With that said, this team is still a long way away from their preseason goal of being a Western Conference contender. Right now, I see Portland as a 7 or an 8-seed, which would result in an early playoff exit. But compared to how dire things were two weeks ago, it's remarkable we can think of the Blazers as a legitimate playoff team.
Jared: Yes. What the Blazers are doing now is losing to elite teams like the Clippers and beating mediocre teams (like the Thunder and Kings) and bad teams (like the Bulls). Portland wasn't doing that earlier in the season. They were losing to seemingly everybody. I think the team has more offensive balance and firepower now, which will help them overwhelm less-talented teams. A key to the Blazers' success last season was that it beat up on the bad teams, and I think this new-look version of the Blazers can do that the rest of this season. That will be good enough to put Portland in the driver's seat of the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoff ladder. Currently, they're in ninth place, just a game behind the eighth-place Suns, two games behind the seventh-place Timberwolves, and three games behind the sixth-place Jazz. Portland is now good enough to challenge those teams for the 6 seed, and wait to see what happens with potential deadline moves in February, and the anticipated returns of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins shortly after. The future looks promising.
3. The Blazers play three games before we record our next podcast. They host the Lakers (19-3) on Friday, the Thunder (8-12) on Sunday and the Knicks (4-17) on Tuesday. Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
Jared: I want to pick the Blazers to beat the Lakers, because Portland really needs a signature win. They beat the Mavericks back on Oct. 27, but they don't have another win against a good team this season. In fact, the win against Dallas is Portland's only win against a team with a record better than .500 this season. Their other eight wins are against teams with an average record of 7-14 this season. But, I don't see Portland beating the Lakers, who have only three losses all season. They rank sixth in offense and fourth in defense, and Portland doesn't seem ready at this point to beat a team that good. However, I do think the Blazers will bounce back with wins against the Thunder and Knicks.
Nate: While Portland has improved, I still think they're well below the level of the two Los Angeles teams. So, even though it's at home, I’m taking the Lakers, who have won 10 games in a row on the road. But the Blazers bounce back and continue to beat the teams they should beat, winning against Oklahoma City and New York. A 2-1 week for the Blazers.
Orlando: The Blazers beat the Thunder and Knicks but lose to the Lakers.
SEASON PREDICTIONS RECORDS
- Orlando: 15-7
- Jared: 14-8
- Nate: 14-8
MEET THE 3-ON-3 BLAZERS TEAM
Jared Cowley is a digital producer who writes about the Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. Jared has written about the Jazz and Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.