Three Things to Know: Carmelo Anthony could learn from Dwight Howard about grabbing last chance

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Carmelo Anthony has got his last chance, can he grab it like Dwight Howard has his? He got one last opportunity. It came in an unexpected place, but that didn’t matter because this was it — things work out here or his NBA career ends now. Be in shape, accept your role and know this is not your team, play hard nightly, defend with energy, don’t be a diva and demand touches how and where you want them, and don’t pout or be a distraction if things don’t go exactly how you want them to.

That was Dwight Howard’s situation entering this season — and he’s done all those things and given the Lakers the inside presence they need. Howard’s raw numbers are not eye-popping, 7.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per night, but he’s been the team’s best center (allowing Anthony Davis time at his preferred power forward slot). Howard has been a vital part of the Lakers 9-2 start.

Now Carmelo Anthony has his last chance — the Portland Trail Blazers will sign Anthony to a non-guaranteed contract and ask him to fill a role and help their ailing frontcourt.

The particulars are different from Howard, but the theme is the same.

This is it for Anthony, he “2,000 percent” wanted another shot in the NBA, to go out on his terms, well he’s got it on a team that could really use what he brings. However, it’s not his team (it’s Damian Lillard’s) and Anthony will need to accept a role, get buckets at the four in the system (far more catch-and-shoot than isolation), and defend well enough to stay on the court. Do that and he can help this team.

Portland’s 4-8 start made it the perfect team to take a chance on Anthony. This is a smart signing by Portland (a low-risk one because of the non-guaranteed contract).

The Blazers have an elite backcourt. Damian Lillard is playing like an MVP and averaging 30.5 points per game — he’s carrying the offense so far. CJ McCollum has struggled out of the gate, but Portland isn’t really worried about him getting back on track, this is just a little slump.

The frontcourt, however, has been a disaster, mostly due to injuries. Jusuf Nurkic — Portland third-best player last season and a guy critical to their success — is out until likely after the All-Star break from a fractured leg that required surgery. Portland hoped Zach Collins would step into Nurkic’s role, but Collins is out four months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol was signed this summer but he has yet to step on the court and is battling a foot issue. Hassan Whiteside came in via trade and the Blazers brass talked him up, but he has played like he always has — sporadic effort and empty calorie stats. Whiteside does not set a good pick, and on a pick-and-roll heavy team that has hurt Lillard and McCollum, who have had to work harder for space.

That has left Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere as rotation players getting significant minutes.

Now enter Carmelo Anthony.

Portland needs what Carmelo can bring — buckets. He’s not going to get old-school isolation touches on the wing (although coach Terry Stotts would be smart to throw him a couple a game), but Anthony in the past has shown he can be a catch-and-shoot guy who can space the floor and hit threes. Portland desperately needs that. They need a guy who takes the shot or moves the ball, not one who stops it or pounds it into the ground a dozen times then makes a decision. Portland needs a four who can defend well enough not to get played off the floor (and you can be sure teams will test Anthony early and often).

Anthony can do all those things. He can be the player that helps turn Portland’s season around.

He just has to grab his chance and take it.

2) Boos rain down on Kristaps Porzingis, but it is Marcus Morris that gets the ultimate revenge with game-winner for Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis’ return to Madison Square Garden went exactly as expected — Knicks fans unleashed their venom on him.

Knicks fans felt betrayed. Porzingis was the Porzingod when he first came to New York, the anointed savior of the franchise who would return it to the promised land (read: playoffs).Porzingis put up numbers and made an All-Star team, but injuries slowed him, and eventually his relationship with then team president Phil Jackson soured to the point KP blew off an exit interview at the end of the season. A new Knicks front office — president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry, and coach David Fizdale — could not salvage things. Even while out recovering from a torn ACL, the relationship worsened to the point Porzingis and his agent/brother went into Mills’ office and demanded a trade (something the Knicks had privately already been working on). The next day he was sent to Dallas and the Knicks scapegoated him as not wanting to be there.

Knicks fans started in on KP the lay-up lines pregame, and “KP Sucks” chants broke out all night.

However, the ultimate revenge came via Marcus Morris, who drained what proved to be the game-winner with this stepback three (New York won 106-103).

Porzingis finished the night with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, plus 11 rebounds. Good but not eye-popping numbers, still better than most of his games to start the season. After 20 months off, Porzingis is still shaking off the rust, and getting used to playing next to Luke Doncic (who had a triple-double of 33 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds).

Now this is behind him, and Porzingis can focus on getting his groove back and becoming the All-Star next to Doncic that the Mavericks need — and that would be his ultimate revenge on New York.

3) Paul George scores 33 in debut for Clippers, but Los Angeles still falls to New Orleans. Paul George is smooth — despite missing all of training camp and the first 10 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgeries (plural), he looked fluid in his return to the court Thursday.

And he scored 33 points.

The rust was there. George had defensive miscommunications with teammates and got himself in foul trouble. Also, his handle is not all the way back yet (Jrue Holiday stripped him three times at the end of the game). George needs time on the court.

“That’s the best my shoulders have felt in a really long time, so I knew coming into tonight shooting wouldn’t be a problem,” George added. “Just playing basketball is what I’m lacking right now.”

Holiday was brilliant with 36 points leading the Pelicans to a 132-127 victory. Derrick Favors had a 20/20 game, and Frank Jackson added 23 points off the bench.

Saturday night against Atlanta the Clippers are expected to have George and Kawhi Leonard on the court together. Then we get to witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Death Star.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.