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Column: Carmelo Anthony continues to raise his profile with each Lakers win

The Lakers' Carmelo Anthony smiles and jumps during a game.
Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony celebrates after making a three-pointer against the Hornets on Monday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Fans’ cheers were still echoing in Staples Center when Carmelo Anthony, wearing street clothes, tinted glasses and a thoughtful smile, came backstage to meet the media Monday night.

The sellout crowd of 18,997 roared at his every move, soaking up the energy Anthony brought off the Lakers bench and into the game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and reflecting it back at him in cheers and chants. He was in his element, putting the Lakers ahead for good in overtime by scoring the last three points of his season-high 29 as they held on for a 126-123 victory, a game that will make few highlight films except those that preserve the best moments of Anthony’s stellar career.

There were so many good moments on Monday — the seven-for-10 shooting from three-point range, the warm bond between him and the crowd, the boost he gave a team that still hasn’t figured out how to mesh without the injured LeBron James — that it was difficult to imagine Anthony’s career appeared to be over not so long ago.

Released by the Houston Rockets 10 games into the 2018-19 season, Anthony was out of the NBA until the Portland Trail Blazers signed him in November 2019. “I honestly never understood it. I really didn’t,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

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Anthony gave Portland two solid seasons coming off the bench before he signed with the Lakers in August. “He’s obviously got a lot in the tank and we’re excited to have him,” Vogel said. “I just never understood it.”

From oblivion to an early contender for the sixth man of the year is a long journey. His dynamic performance Monday was less an in-your-face statement to those who thought he had little left and more a gift to a team that potentially gives him his best shot at an elusive championship.

Anthony Davis plays through an illness and Carmelo Anthony also proves clutch in a 126-123 victory over the Charlotte Hornets in overtime Monday.

“The problem with that is everyone else thought that. I never believed that. You know what I’m saying?” the 37-year-old forward said. “It’s something that I took on the chin, I dealt with it, I lived with it, played with scenarios all through my head for months. But I never doubted myself in anything that I did, so I always stayed solid on who I am, what I can do and if the right situation for that came, I would have taken that situation, which was Portland. They opened their doors up to me. They gave me an opportunity.”

Joining the Lakers and adding to their string of aging All-Stars meant he’d have to be a reserve. He was ready for that.

“Coming here it wasn’t an adjustment coming off the bench. I’ve accepted that, coming here,” he said. “The first time I came off the bench, it was a hard time coming off the bench. It was something that I didn’t know how to react to. I didn’t know how to respond to. It was something foreign to me. It was something I had never done before — outside of playing with the USA team, but that was totally different,” he added, referring to his four Olympic medals, three of them gold.

“Having that experience coming off the bench and understanding and being able to see the flow of the game and what’s needed and the energy that’s needed to come off the bench, just coming in there and fitting right in, I’ve adapted to that. I’ve accepted that. Especially before I came here when I got that call. So, coming off the bench is something that I’ve accepted. I don’t even think about it. I haven’t thought about it. Just something that’s what’s best for this team.”

Despite losing James for a third consecutive game because of an abdominal strain and despite Anthony Davis’ persistent stomach illness, Vogel has resisted the temptation to move Anthony into the starting lineup. And that’s fine. Why fix something that’s not broken?

Anthony’s success coming off the bench has been a consistent bright spot for the Lakers. “He’s a great player, still great at knocking down shots. He’s had a heck of a career,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said after the Lakers climbed a notch above .500 by winning the opener of a five-game homestand that continues against Miami on Wednesday.

Anthony’s teammates look forward to the jolt he provides when he enters the game. “He’s a great scorer, great mentor for guys. Leadership. He’s a vet. He knows the game. For us, he brings all those,” Davis said. “He’s helped us in a lot of games this year. Definitely surprising that nobody wanted him a couple of years ago, but we’re more than happy to have him.”

LaMelo Ball recorded the second triple-double of his career Monday with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists against the Lakers, who won in overtime.

Fans also look forward to seeing him enter the game. “The crowd is amazing with him. They keep him out of the starting lineup because the energy we get when he checks in is something that I don’t want to mess with, you know?” Vogel said, half-joking.

Anthony’s three-point shooting at home has been worth getting excited about. He’s 38 for 59 (64.4%) from three-point range at Staples Center, but one for 16 on the road. “I always thought Staples was a good shooter’s gym, even back in the day,” he said. “But it’s different when you’re an opponent, as opposed to the home team.”

Now it’s his gym, his fans, cheering him for maintaining his belief in himself. Having come this far, he’s not about to let up.

“When I was in New York it was a similar feeling but it was a different type of feeling in New York. The energy, the crowd, was always there. That intensity of the crowds in New York is different,” he said.

“Portland is a lot different. A little more laid back, but they’re very passionate. Their fans are very passionate and get behind their players. Staples has always been different. And also the team that we have. It keeps me sharp. I’ve got to stay on top of my game knowing that the personnel that I have alongside me, I have to do what I have to do best in order for us to have a good chance of winning. As long as I do that, I think we’ll be OK.”

The best part is that he’s hearing cheers again. Earning them too.


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