By Joe Giglio

The absence of Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks’ 81-76 loss at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night should be further proof of his case for this season’s NBA MVP award.

It’s not hard to make the case that Anthony’s presence would have been enough to help New York overcome a horrible shooting night from behind the arc, sloppy play in the halfcourt, and a physical beatdown at the hands of Indiana.

Yet, it’s becoming harder and harder to consider Anthony in the conversation with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul for MVP.

His play warrants it.

His attendance doesn’t.

There’s been an underlying, troublesome theme for this Knicks season. It took shape Thursday in the form of a one-game suspension for Anthony’s antics off the court toward Kevin Garnett: They can’t find a way to play with their full roster. Part of that issue is far from Carmelo’s fault — Stoudemire’s surgery, Shumpert’s rehab, Wallace’s stress reaction, Felton’s finger, etc.

But some of it does fall on Anthony. Though fan will fault him for minor injuries suffered here and there throughout a season — the finger cut while diving for a loose ball in Charlotte or the knee strain in Los Angeles on Christmas — it has cost him six games already. Factor in Thursday’s suspension and you’ll see a game log that includes seven DNPs during the first 35 games.

The scoring is there. The leadership is there. The MVP look is there.

But the star of the team isn’t.

As you would imagine, the impact is felt. From the points per game with Melo (102.7) to the points per game without (96.5), the complexion of the game totally changes. Factor in the increased minutes for aging veterans to fill his minutes and larger burden on secondary scorers — J.R. Smith and a still less than 100 percent Stoudemire — and you have a Knicks team that is what their 3-4 record without Anthony says they are.

Fans won’t chastise Anthony for getting nicked while playing at a high level. It already seems that most have moved past his vitriol and actions toward Garnett because of the reported sensitivity of the “trash talk” at MSG that night. That’s to be expected from fans. But perspective should be as well.

Over the last 30-plus years — outside of lockout or strike-shortened seasons — no NBA MVP has played less than 75 games. Carmelo would need to play in every game throughout the rest of the year to hit that mark. Durability isn’t important, it’s vital. James, Durant and Paul have combined to miss zero games so far this season. Considering that Carmelo is also more than halfway to 16 technical fouls  — which comes with an automatic one-game suspension — it’s hard to imagine him not missing another game this year.

At some point, this becomes about more than trash talk or losing focus during an argument with a referee. It’s about leadership and being the rock of a franchise. While Anthony’s game has evolved, his mentality must match it in every aspect. The climb will only get tougher for this team. To overcome Miami, Chicago, Boston and Indiana will take more than superb shooting, floor spacing and ball movement. It will take a star that leads by example every night.

The difference between first and third in MVP voting is ultimately unimportant. The difference between No. 1 and No. 3 in the Eastern Conference standings is crucial to this Knicks season.

Carmelo’s time on the court is tied to both.

From avoiding injury to playing hurt to being smart with technical fouls and settling scores, the Knicks MVP needs to stay on the court to have any shot at being the league’s MVP.

Joe Giglio was the winner of Fantasy Phenom III in 2012. You can hear him on WFAN this Saturday from 1-3 a.m. Twitter? He’s on it: @JoeGiglioSports.

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