PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers are finally back home. Thank goodness.
Portland played 13 of its first 18 games away from home. The Blazers have endured six-game and four-game road trips already this season. Their longest homestand so far has been two games.
The Blazers have had a terrible 6-12 start to the season, but they're finally looking a bit more healthy, Carmelo Anthony has injected some enthusiasm and fun into the team, and they actually get to play some home games for a change.
Twelve of the Blazers' next 16 games are at the Moda Center. Portland is just 1-4 at home this season, but they've traditionally been very good at home. Over the past three seasons, the Blazers have won nearly 70% of their games at home, with a 113-51 record at the Moda Center.
If Portland is going to turn things around, now's the time.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we discuss Carmelo Anthony's impact on the team, debate whether the Blazers can turn their season around, and make predictions for the next four games.
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1. Carmelo Anthony played his best game in more than a year against the Bulls. Can this kind of production or close to it be expected going forward?
Jared: Anthony had 25 points and eight rebounds against the Bulls. He won't average 25 and eight going forward, but I do think he can maintain or increase his production through his first four games with the Blazers. He's averaging 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and nearly a steal per game. He's shooting inefficiently from the field (39.1%) and efficiently from the 3-point line (39.1%). I don't see why he can't keep up that level of production. I'll say this: He's been much better than I expected. It's obvious that he worked really hard during his year away from the NBA. He came back ready, which is really impressive. He's playing 29.5 minutes per game, and it doesn't look like he'll have any trouble maintaining those minutes (or even playing a few more). That's so important for the Blazers because with this roster, Portland desperately needs someone who can play big minutes at power forward. He's in a great situation in Portland. He's starting, he's playing all of his minutes at his optimal position on the floor, and he's been given the autonomy to play to his strengths. He's not being typecast in a standstill catch-and-shoot role that doesn't really fit him. The Blazers are asking him to take catch-and-shoot 3s, but they're also letting him operate in isolation and in the post. Unlike his last two stops, in Oklahoma City and Houston, the Blazers are letting Melo be Melo, and so far that's been a good thing.
Orlando: Carmelo Anthony put together his best game since dropping 28 on the Bulls a year ago. If the Blazers are going to play Chicago more often, this would be an easy yes to the question, but that’s not how it works. Anthony has proven he still belongs in the league and fits the Blazers style of play, but Monday's game feels like a best-case scenario. He's going to have nights where he goes off and there will be off nights. I want to see how he will help the team when the shot isn't falling at a high rate. I think it's a huge ask to expect him to have that kind of production every game, but there's no doubt he can make a difference in Portland. I enjoyed seeing the team rally around Carmelo and genuinely celebrate his first big game with the Blazers. That's a good sign moving forward.
Nate: No. And I'm not saying that to rain on Melo Fever. It's just not realistic. With that said, I don't think his performance against the Bulls will be an isolated highlight. I think he'll have games when he's hot and aggressive and we'll see him excel. But we won't see it on a consistent basis. In his first three games, Anthony averaged 13 points while shooting just 34% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. You can blame it on rust and being thrust into a roster with teammates he's never played with before. But I don't think that rough stretch can be completely discounted. Do I expect him to consistently be as poor shooting as he was during that stretch? No. But expectations should be in between the great performance we saw against the Bulls and the previous three subpar performances. I think 13-15 points per game and 40% shooting should be what teammates, coaches and fans expect from him on a nightly basis. That contribution would be a major step up from what Portland was getting from the power forward position before Anthony joined the team.
2. The Blazers have completed a brutal 18-game stretch that included 13 road games and may be the most challenging of the season. The Blazers finished 6-12, well below expectations. Despite the record, some are hopeful Portland can turn the season around. Are you one of those believers? Why or why not?
Orlando: That was a mostly miserable 18-game stretch. Rip City went through a lot of pain in a short period of time. They managed to look like one of the worst teams in the league, losing games they were expected to win and suffering injuries along the way. Time is still on their side and they've been in deeper holes over the years and have worked their way out, but doubt is slowly starting to creep in because they can't seem to catch a break when it comes to injuries. They need time to build chemistry and figure out their roles, but they can't do that if key players are banged up and missing time. The longer it takes to get everyone on the same page and on the court together, the longer it's going to take to get right. They have a lot of home games on tap and that should give you hope they can get through this.
Nate: I jumped ship a couple weeks ago and I still haven’t hopped back on the Blazers bandwagon. But after the Bulls game, I can see a blueprint for how Portland's season could turn around. For the first time since the Collins injury, it seems the Blazers have solidified a nine-man rotation: the starting five of Lillard, McCollum, Hood, Anthony and Whiteside, followed by Simons, Little, Bazemore and Labissiere coming in off the bench. What I'm encouraged by with that group is that you can identify each player's role. Maybe the Blazers can finally find some cohesion with this rotation. Still, there's a slim margin for error and injury. Whiteside must be engaged and impactful, like he was against the Bulls. Anthony must knock down outside shots and convert on his iso opportunities. Labissiere must shoulder the frontcourt load off the bench. Simons must score off the bench. If all those things can happen consistently, the Blazers can turn this around. And fortunately for Portland, the schedule is favorable for the next 18 games: 12 of them are at home and 12 are against teams .500 or below.
Jared: I'm still a believer. I'm not disregarding how bad the team has been to this point in the season. They've been bad. But the team is finally back home, they're as healthy as they can be right now, and it seems like Carmelo Anthony's presence has instilled some life into this team. If the Blazers can stay healthy, I think they can climb their way back to .500 and into the playoff picture. They're only three games out of eighth place in the West right now. As bad as the Blazers have been, they're still within striking distance, and there's still so much season left to be played. They've played about 20% of the season. Imagine if an NFL team many expected to be good started 1-2. Would you write off that team's playoff chances? No. That's about where the Blazers are right now in their season. These next 16 games, with 12 at home, are pivotal. To get back to .500 by the New Year, Portland has to go 11-5 in their next 16 games. Does that seem likely considering what we've seen so far this season? No. But I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Blazers get hot as the schedule eases up and start climbing back to where they need to be. I don't know why I still believe. I just can't shake the feeling that things are about to change.
3. The Blazers play four games before we record our next podcast: home games tonight against the Thunder (6-10) and Friday against the Bulls (6-12), Tuesday at the LA Clippers (13-5) and back home Wednesday against the Kings (7-9). Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
Nate: I think the Blazers have found stability. So, I think this group of four games will go the predictable route, and hopefully be less frustrating for fans. The Blazers come home with wins over Oklahoma City and Chicago, although I could see the Bulls game being closer than expected because they'll want to play well after Monday's embarrassment. The Blazers lose to the Clippers again before coming back home knocking off the Kings. 3-1.
Jared: I'm picking the Blazers to go 3-1 in this stretch. The momentum from the Bulls win carries over and helps Portland get wins at home against the Thunder and the Bulls. The Clippers are a Top 5 team. They're not losing at home to the Blazers. The Kings deserve some credit. Since starting the season with five straight losses, they've won seven of 11 with a few impressive wins. This is also the second game of a back-to-back for the Blazers. This isn't an easy one for Portland, but I think the Blazers earn a hard-fought win at home against Sacramento.
Orlando: If I truly believe they can turn this season around, it's weeks like this where they have to make up some ground. I'm going to continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'll roll with a 3-1 type of week. That's three wins at home over teams with below .500 records and a loss to the Clippers.
SEASON PREDICTIONS RECORDS
- Orlando: 11-7
- Jared: 10-8
- Nate: 10-8
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.