LOS ANGELES - Last year, on the morning of Oct. 26, the first members of the Los Angeles Clippers' traveling party arrived for the team's shootaround inside Houston's Toyota Center.
At the other end of the court, as a Nas track played from a speaker, Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony hoisted midrange jump shots while assistant John Lucas rebounded. The Clippers staffers began retreating into a hallway to give Anthony privacy, but Lucas waved them onto the court. Returning his gaze from the Clippers to the hoop, Anthony continued his morning shooting routine for a few more minutes.
Only in hindsight was the scene considered remarkable. Within two weeks, Anthony was out of a job after only 10 games with Houston. He didn't step foot on an NBA floor again for the next 12 months.
Kawhi Leonard, the most sought-after player in the NBA last summer, didn't understand how the 10-time All-Star had become one of the least.
"I don't think he was treated the right way, how they left him out there being a future Hall of Famer," Leonard said Sunday, after the Clippers' rout of Washington.
Anthony is no longer on the outside looking in. After his Nov. 19 signing with Portland, his return has not only injected life into his own career but into the season of his new team. The Trail Blazers have won three consecutive games entering Tuesday's matchup with the Clippers at Staples Center and Anthony was named the Western Conference's player of the week Monday after averaging 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 57.4% from the field during the winning streak. It is the first time since 2014 that Anthony earned such an accolade.
"ALL PRAISE DUE To The Most High!!!" Anthony wrote Monday afternoon on Instagram.
Anthony has averaged 17.7 points, 6 rebounds and 2.2 assists through his first six games with Portland, whose unexpectedly gloomy start to the season, because of injuries and losses, made last season's Western Conference finalist need Anthony as badly as the 21st-leading scorer in NBA history wanted another chance and a 17th season.
"Melo's been a great player, he's going to be a great player, he's playing terrific from start to finish," said Clippers forward Paul George, a teammate of Anthony's during the 2017-18 season while in Oklahoma City. "Shout to Portland for opening that door back up for Melo and prolonging his career."
Throughout his unemployment, Anthony's highlights were relegated to Instagram clips. Now he's back playing on national television, and that alone was worth celebrating, suggested George, who has not appreciated the box-score scrutiny created so early in Anthony's return.
"I just hate how, you know, first game Melo came back and the whole media was 'His plus-minus is this,' and 'Him being on the floor, Portland generated this,' and then now, he's playing well and the media is, 'Three games straight he did this and that,' " George said. "I just hate the narratives created by him being back."
Concerns regarding the former superstar's defense and willingness to accept a potentially diminished role contributed to his delay in landing another NBA job. He dismissed the idea of coming off the bench while with Oklahoma City before acquiescing in Houston. Thus far with Portland, Anthony has been a starter and net positive. The Trail Blazers are outscoring opponents by 6.2 points during his 30.6 minutes per game while being outscored by three points when he sits.
"As you can see he can still run it up and down the floor, still got a lot of basketball left," Leonard said. "It's just going to be a fun matchup for us."
The Clippers have beaten Portland already once this season, on Nov. 7, but insights gleaned from that performance might not hold up this time around, and not only because Anthony has changed Portland's lineup.
At the time of the last meeting, George was still undergoing his offseason injury rehab and ex-Trail Blazer Maurice Harkless was coming off the bench; now each starts. Forward JaMychal Green and guards Rodney McGruder and Landry Shamet combined to play 59 minutes before; now all are hurt. The Clippers are eagerly awaiting their return in order to finally play with a complete roster.
But the team's two biggest stars are just as pleased to have Anthony back on the floor again, too, firing jump shots just like old times.
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