By John Schmeelk
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Tuesday night’s win against the Heat was much less dramatic or significant than it could have been if the Heat’s stars were on the court. But it was significant in another way: Carmelo Anthony’s 50-point effort might mean that he is about to hit his stride.
During the prior seven games, (all wins for the Knicks) Anthony was averaging more than 27 points per game, but he was shooting just 42 percent from the field. It was the continuation of a trend since he initially injured his knee on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before that Christmas Day injury, Anthony was on his way to having one of his best and most efficient scoring years of his career. He was shooting 47 percent from the field, 43 percent from behind the arc and had a net rating of 10.1. (Lineups that he was in were outscoring opponents at an average of 10 points per 100 possessions — a ridiculous number.)
After he came back from that initial injury his season numbers dipped. In his 35 games since then, not including last night, Anthony shot just 41 percent from the field, 33 percent from behind the arc and had a pedestrian net rating of 2.9. In retrospect it is pretty obvious that he never really recovered fully from that injury. With those numbers from the team’s best player, it should be no surprise that the Knicks were barely a .500 team for large stretches of January and February.
If the Knicks want to make a serious run at the Heat (and that would constitute a successful season), they need their superstar to play at a pre-Christmas Day level. Since having his knee drained, there hadn’t been much of a bump in his numbers until Tuesday night. Against the Heat, Anthony turned it on. His jump shot fell at a ridiculous rate that isn’t sustainable, but it might be a sign that he is ready to go on a hot streak. There’s no debate that LeBron James is the best player in the world, but Anthony can at least match him point-for-point if he can shoot between 45-50 percent from the field and close to 40 percent from three. It’s the only way that the Knicks can get to the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone challenge the Heat. Perhaps the knee is truly 100 percent now.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Anthony’s performance on Tuesday night wasn’t his 50 points, but his lack of obsession about reaching the mark. He went eight minutes without scoring in the fourth quarter and seemed fine passing to open teammates when the Heat sent double-teams his way. He made the right plays. That’s a sign of growth. It’s the type of hot shooting and maturity that the Knicks need from their star when the playoffs start in a few weeks.
– The Knicks almost squeezed their entire season into one game on Tuesday night. In the first half they decided — because James and Dwyane Wade were sitting — that they didn’t have to try hard on defense. It was embarrassing how easily Mike Miller and his ragtag band tore the Knicks apart. The Knicks’ defense turned it on in the second half, however, and showed how good they can be when they play hard and smart defense. Relying on flipping the switch is very risky, and the team can’t do that in the playoffs.
– These were easily my two favorite plays of the night: The Kenyon Martin two-handed throwdown on the Birdman and Tyson Chandler’s swat of Chris Bosh. Martin simply powered through Chris Andersen’s block attempt and used his power. He continues to be an old-school power forward that attacks the rim relentlessly and isn’t afraid to commit the hard foul. He is a better player than both Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace, who have been on the Knicks’ roster since the start of the season. Could Bosh have gone up softer on the layup attempt that Chandler swatted? You’re 6-foot-11. DUNK IT! It was almost as bad earlier in the game, when he took a fifteen-foot fadeaway over J.R. Smith instead of taking it to the hoop.
– Chandler looked very rusty to me, but he didn’t look hurt. I’ll be very curious to see how he reacts on Wednesday night against the Hawks. The Knicks could use him against Al Horford in another important Eastern Conference game. He needs to be cautious with his neck, but at the same time be ready and in total rhythm for the playoffs. It is a tough balance to strike.
– With the Bulls as a potential sixth seed, it is very important to get into the two spot in the Eastern Conference. Playing the Bulls in the first round is a real potential upset opportunity. Beating the Hawks on Wednesday night would also help, giving the Bulls a better chance to vault past Atlanta to take on the Nets in a 4/5 first-round matchup.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
After watching Carmelo dominate last night, are you convinced that he’s back to 100 percent? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…