The first-round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers involves two Hall of Famers well acquainted of one another.
The series is the culmination of two 16-year long careers and a friendship equally as long.
It is a testament to the longevity of two superstars who have defined a generation. Their stories have been inextricably connected and at the same time distinct since day 1.
The No. 1 and No. 3 pick of the 2003 NBA draft. One the star coming straight from high school, the other the winner of the NCAA championship. They took the league by storm and went into a head-to-head for the Rookie of the Year. The media tried to early build a rivalry between the two which never materialized since they met just once in the playoffs, in 2012, in a very short first round.
Olympic teammates and champions. At an important juncture in their careers, they both decided to change teams for the luck of success and join big-market franchises, with big drama. While LeBron moved to Miami, Melo forced his way to New York.
The Decision and the Melo Drama. But the results were different. While James experienced major success finally reaching the NBA championship, Carmelo saw New York sink under his weight and earn a lot of criticism for his playing style and the unsuccessful run of the Knicks.
Then there was the leaving. LeBron James went back to Cleveland to finally fulfill his promise and deliver the championship to the city. Anthony began a short West Coast trip which ended with him finding himself without a team and no one willing to take a chance on him.
Finally, LeBron began the last phase of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and Carmelo found redemption in Portland, where the Trail Blazers trusted him and gave him a chance. It was Melo’s rebirth. He thrived next to superstar Damian Lillard on the white-hot Blazers, currently the most dangerous team in the NBA.
In the bubble Carmelo has further improved his game, averaging 16.5 points and 6.9 rebounds, shooting 46.9 from three and hitting several clutch shots. In the meantime, LeBron remains a perennial MVP candidate, currently averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists.
At the beginning of the season, with Anthony out of the league and the Blazers way down in the Western Conference standings, no one could imagine such a circumstance. Now, we are at the eve of the climax of two parallel careers which finally meet at a touchpoint, promising a lot of storylines for the series and entertaining for the fans.
While one is clearly the best of the two and the favorite to win, there might be many surprises and the second earn some respect since the decay of the New York days.
What is certain to be expected are high-intensity games where the two teams and the two players will play to survive in an unusual first round, which, for many different causes, looks much more like a Conference Final.