Pau Gasol

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Three Things to Know: Has 5-11 Portland fallen too far back to make playoffs?

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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) Have the 5-11 Portland Trail Blazers fallen too far back to make playoffs? We’ve all heard a coach say it: “You can’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose it.”

That might apply to the Trail Blazers this season. After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday 137-129, Portland is now 5-11 and the 14 seed in the West, ahead of only the one team possibly more decimated by injuries than themselves (the Warriors). Portland has gone 2-9 in November.

This was a team with Western Conference Finals expectations before the season started, now the question has to be asked:

Has Portland’s slow start to the season dug too big a hole to climb out of and even make the playoffs?

No. But things need to turn around sooner rather than later.

On the positive side, while the Trail Blazers may be six games below .500 they are also only three games back of eight-seed Phoenix and the final playoff spot. They also have a point differential that suggests the Blazers should have at least one more win, maybe two, meaning they are a little better than their record indicates. Get Damian Lillard healthy (he missed the last two games with a back issue but is expected to play Saturday against Cleveland), rack up some wins to change the momentum, and make a late push up the standings once Jusuf Nurkic returns (there is no timeline, but whispers say maybe around the All-Star break)..

Portland is not out of it.

Also on the positive side, Portland has got a run of games at home coming up. And the franchise has some history on their side: The 2007-08 Trail Blazers started 5-10, but went on a 13-game win streak and eventually finished 41-41 and made the playoffs. (The 2017 Jazz and 2016 Wizards both started 6-10 and made the playoffs.)

It’s also not going to be easy to turn things around — there are no nights off in this West, no gimme wins (outside maybe Golden State, until they get healthy again). Also, unlike in 2008, 41 wins will not be enough to make the playoffs. It may not be too big to climb out of, but Portland has dug itself a hole to start the season.

One can’t mention Portland’s struggles without talking injuries, particularly along the front line. Nurkic is out, and the Blazers were counting on Zach Collins to step forward into that role, except he is now out months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol never got healthy from his foot injury and was waived. Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere have both missed time with ailments. That has placed a lot on the shoulders of Hassan Whiteside, who has done what he’s always done — stuffed the stat sheet with empty calories, given inconsistent effort, and not set good picks. The injuries up front are why Carmelo Anthony was brought in. Add in a slow start to the season from CJ McCollum (who has turned it around) and Lillard’s injury, and here we are at 5-11.

Portland’s biggest issues are on the defensive end, where they are currently a bottom 10 team. Teams are running a lot on Portland, and while statistically the team has defended well in transition, teams still get too many easy buckets.

Portland was an average defensive team last season, but a top-three offense covered it up. This season we’ve seen how much Nurkic — as a strong pick setter and short-roll option who could facilitate a little — meant to the Blazers offense. Portland is 13th in offensive rating, basically league average. The Portland offense no longer can hide their defensive flaws.

Time has not yet run out on Portland, it’s still early. However, the Blazers need to find some wins. Fast. The first rule of climbing out of a hole is to stop digging.

2) Carmelo Anthony scores 18, but we need to see him next to Lillard; Giannis Antetokounmpo has career-high 15 assists, gets triple-double in win. There were some individual games worth discussing in Milwaukee’s 137-129 win over Portland Thursday.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and he looked better than his first game back. You can see what you want in his numbers, he took six midrange shots, but is now also 5-of-8 from three in two games in Portland.

Here’s the reality with Anthony: This is Lillard’s team and he missed the two games ‘Melo played. It’s too early to judge the Anthony gamble in Portland because we have not seen him yet next to the guy whose team this is and who runs the offense. Lillard is expected to return from his back issues Saturday against Cleveland, we need to watch Anthony in that and the next few games, then see how this marriage is working.

This is how good Giannis Antetokounmpo has played this season: He struggled against the Blazers shooting 9-of-27 (1-of-7 from three), looking a little worn having to play 37 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.

His numbers on the “off” night: 24 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists.

That would be the first ever 20+ point, 15+ rebound, 15+ assist game in Bucks franchise history — and that history has Oscar Robertson in it. Antetokounmpo looks every bit like an MVP player again to start the season.

Finally, CJ McCollum seems to be out of his slump and had 37 points and 10 assists.

3) J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram lead New Orleans to win, hand Phoenix it’s third straight loss. Brandon Ingram scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter Thursday, leading the Pelicans to a 124-121 win on the road. Ingram is a restricted free agent this summer and has been putting up “pay the man his money” numbers this season.

J.J. Redick added 26 and was killing it from three.

After a hot start, the Suns have come back to earth losing three in a row and 4-of-5, and now they head out on the road to take on two teams playing well in Minnesota and Denver.

Portland waives Pau Gasol as he tries to recover from foot surgery

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Portland signed Pau Gasol to a one-year contract this summer, hoping the aging Spaniard could help the team stay afloat while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from surgery on his leg.

It didn’t work out that way. Gasol suffered a foot injury that required surgery and he has yet to recover enough to get back on the court. Meanwhile, an injury to Zach Collins left Portland even more shorthanded up front. Wednesday, the Trail Blazers waived Gasol, something the player confirmed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news and had more details.

Is this the end of Gasol’s Hall of Fame career? He’s 39 years old, and last season with the Bucks he looked like a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game.

If so, one of the good guys of the NBA will be missed.

If not, if he can get healthy, some teams certainly would be interested in having him for depth and his locker room presence during a playoff run.

Carmelo Anthony reportedly will not make debut for Portland before next Tuesday

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There will be no Carmelo Anthony revenge game next Monday night against Houston.

The former Rocket is expected to formally sign with the Portland Trail Blazers soon; however, he will not play before Tuesday night when Portland is in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Carmelo Anthony isn’t expected to make his Portland Trail Blazers debut until Tuesday’s game at New Orleans at the earliest, league sources tell ESPN.

Anthony, 35, has to complete a physical with the Blazers before the one-year, non-guaranteed contract is finalized — and that could some as soon as Saturday, league sources said.

Fans and ‘Melo’s peers around the league are pumped about his return

Anthony played 10 games for the Rockets last season before they waived him, with his fit and defensive issues leading to the decision by the Rockets.

After that, Anthony could not find a landing spot in the league until now.

Portland, with injuries having ravaged them in the frontcourt — Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Pau Gasol are all out injured, and they were not a deep team up front to begin with — became a logical fit for Anthony and his skill set. He can space the floor and get buckets at a position of need. However, he’s going to have to fit into the Blazers’ system — a lot of catch-and-shoot opportunities, not a lot of isolation chances — and play good enough defense to stay on the court.

The model for Anthony is out there, we’ll see if he can take advantage of this opportunity. If not, this is how Anthony’s NBA career will end.

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.

Portland reportedly signs Carmelo Anthony to non-guaranteed contract

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Off to an ugly 4-8 start this season — despite Damian Lillard tearing it up at an MVP level — the Portland Trail Blazers are desperate for any help in the frontcourt they can find, especially a four who can stretch the floor.

Enter Carmelo Anthony.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

He will join the team during its upcoming six-game road trip. Lillard is reportedly on board with this.

Portland visits Houston on Monday of that road trip — the last team that ‘Melo played for.

This is really a low-risk move by the Blazers thanks to the non-guaranteed contract. If it doesn’t work out, Portland just moves on.

Anthony has been searching for a path back into the NBA through most of last season — the Rockets let him go after just 10 games, deciding to part ways — and this past summer, with no takers until now. Two issues were holding teams back. First has been concern about his willingness to accept a role. ‘Melo is losing the race with Father Time and is no longer a top offensive option, yet he reportedly wanted to be treated like one — and get the touches of one. There were concerns he would be disruptive, something he (and the people around him) pushed back hard against.

The second issue was ‘Melo’s defense, which has gone from not good to dreadful. In an NBA where big men now have to cover more in space, Anthony has been exposed. And will be again.

Portland was in the right position to roll the dice on Anthony.

Portland has an elite backcourt led by Damian Lillard, who is averaging 30.5 points per game and carrying the offense. His backcourt partner CJ McCollum has struggled out of the gate, but Portland isn’t really worried about him finding his rhythm soon and getting back to being himself.

The frontcourt, however, has been a disaster. Jusuf Nurkic — their third-best player last season, and at points arguably their second-best — is out until likely after the All-Star break from a fractured leg that required surgery. The Blazers had hoped Zach Collins would take a step forward this season and fill that role both at the five and as a stretch four, but he 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 was a big off-season move (via trade), but he has played like he always has — sporadic effort and empty calorie stats. His inability to set a good pick has hurt the ability of Lillard and McCollum to find space. Beyond that, Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere getting plenty of minutes.

In that context, adding Anthony to see if it can work out makes sense.

If not, the Blazers can just move on, but you know Anthony will be motivated to make this work.