PORTLAND — Carmelo Anthony has been around the NBA for quite some time but he’s never faced the team that launched his career in the playoffs.
Anthony’s current team, the Portland Trail Blazers, faces the Denver Nuggets in a first-round best-of-seven series starting Saturday.
Anthony said he hadn’t realized that he’d never faced the Nuggets in the postseason. But so much has changed since he wore a Denver jersey.
“It’s a lot different now. My mindset is different. My goals are different. We’re going in there trying to win,” he said. “So, it’s a different type of mentality, but deep down inside I know that Denver will always hold a special place for me.”
A 10-time All-Star, Anthony is ready for another chance at an NBA title, something that has so far eluded him in his 18-year career and 12 trips to the postseason. Last season, Portland was eliminated in five games by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“This is where I should be. I should be in the postseason. That’s just me speaking from the heart and genuinely. If I’m not in the postseason, then it should be a problem,” he said.
Anthony was drafted by the Nuggets with the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He played in Denver for seven-plus seasons, helping the team reach the Western Conference Finals following the 2008-09 season.
He was traded in 2011 to the New York Knicks, where he spent more than six seasons. Anthony also had stops in Oklahoma and Houston, but in early 2019 he was traded to Chicago and the Bulls cut him before he played a game.
Anthony hadn’t played for a year when he was signed by the Trail Blazers in November 2019. He instantly sparked the team and developed a chemistry with his teammates while also providing veteran leadership.
This season he’s come off the bench, leading the Blazers’ second unit with an average of 13.4 points per game,
“What he’s done for us in a year and a half has been what we needed. This year, the role that he’s had off the bench has been a big part of the reason why we are where we are,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
Anthony wasn’t with the Blazers yet when they last faced the Nuggets in the playoffs in 2019. Portland won in seven games to advance to the Western Conference Finals, but fell in four games to Golden State.
Likewise, the personnel in Denver has turned over since Anthony left. But the Nuggets are still very aware of the danger Anthony poses.
“You have arguably one of the greatest one-on-one scorers in NBA history in Carmelo Anthony, who’s still doing it at a high level at this stage of his career, which is really impressive.” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
The Blazers are riding momentum into the playoffs, having won 10 of their final 12 regular-season games.
“Mentally, when we’re in a good space as a unit, as a team, we’re in a good space. Confidence-wise we’re in a good space. These are all things that you want to have clicking for you going into the postseason,” Anthony said. “I think right now we have a lot of those things working in our favor heading into this postseason. So we’ve got to stay with that, continue to believe in ourselves, understand what we are up against, understand how hard we worked to get to this point.”
No. 3 Nuggets (47-25) vs. No. 6 Blazers (42-30)
Season series: Nuggets, 2-1.
Story line: Denver won 30 of its last 40 games, shocking many by not falling apart following Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury. Portland is in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year — the longest current run in the NBA — but three of its last four appearances resulted in a first-round exit. It would seem like more pressure is on the Blazers.
Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Jusuf Nurkic. It’ll be largely up to Nurkic to contain Denver’s MVP frontrunner, who controls just about everything that the Nuggets run. If Jokic isn’t slowed, even if only slightly, a tough task for the Blazers gets that much tougher.
Prediction: Nuggets in 7.
Saturday: at Denver, 7:30 p.m. (NBCSNW and ESPN)
Monday: at Denver, 7 p.m. (NBCSNW and TNT)
Thursday: at Portland, 7:30 p.m. (NBCSNW and NBATV)
Saturday, May 29: at Portland, 1 p.m. (NBCSNW and TNT)
Tuesday, June 1 (if necessary): at Denver, TBD (NBCSNW)
Thursday, June 3 (if necessary): at Portland, TBD (NBCSNW)
Saturday, June 5 (if necessary): at Denver, TBD (NBCSNW)