Carmelo Anthony explodes against Orlando, as Woodson's banged-up Knicks continue their confounding run
The New York Knicks entered Wednesday night's game against the Orlando Magic knowing that they'd be without power forward Amar'e Stoudemire and point guard Jeremy Lin. They'd have a hobbled Carmelo Anthony playing through a groin injury.
The Magic had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, had won three in a row and seven of ten. Their center, Dwight Howard, is the best in the league, and point guard Jameer Nelson was too quick for Baron Davis to guard. And against a Knicks team that struggled to identify and rotate to open three-point shooters against Milwaukee, Orlando brought a roster tops in the N.B.A. in both three-pointers attempted and made.
Naturally, in this Knicks season where nothing makes sense, New York raced out to a 39-point lead and utterly destroyed the Magic, 108-86.
So what just happened?
Well, for one thing, Carmelo Anthony was magnificent. Arguably, this was the first game since Anthony hurt his wrist against Memphis on Jan. 12 in which he played like the player the Knicks thought they were acquiring. Although he's shooting just under 40 percent on the season, down significantly from his career average of 46 percent, Anthony shot 9-for-15 on Wednesday night. He did so within the New York offense, collecting six assists as well. He added five rebounds, and in what has to be the biggest indictment yet of his defense under Mike D'Antoni, provided more help on that end, injured, than he ever did under D'Antoni while healthy.
Nelson did get off to an early surge against New York, scoring 11 points before the first quarter was even half over, but the Knicks switched from Davis to Iman Shumpert guarding him. Shumpert, an elite on-ball defender, essentially shut Nelson down from there; he finished with 17 points for the game.
And that tradeoff allowed Davis to focus on marshaling his stamina on the offensive end. The expectation was, with Lin out, that the Knicks faced two choices: either force Davis to play the potentially back-breaking minutes he did on Monday once again, or suffer through long stretches of terrible point guard play from Mike Bibby and, worst-case scenario, Toney Douglas.
Instead, Davis was so effective, with 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and just two turnovers, and the offense he was running was so dominant that the Knicks were able to limit him to just 25 minutes on the night. And the much younger Shumpert was able to take on an expanded defensive role without sacrificing his offense: He scored a career-high 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting, adding four assists. Essentially, Shumpert and Anthony were good enough at facilitating the offense that they were able to make up for the lack of a point guard when Davis wasn't on the floor.
The combination of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith continued to provide value: in Novak, the usual accuracy from long range with 4-for-8 from deep, and in Smith, relentless defense and a filled-up stat sheet that has made up for his poor shooting since arriving in New York.
The Knicks are now back over .500 for the first time since, not coincidentally, that Jan. 12 game against Memphis. And they are now 8-1 under their affectless caretaker coach, Mike Woodson.
It's not clear whether Anthony, who rode a stationary bike when out of the game simply to stay loose enough to re-enter, is ready to assume that role full-time from here on out. It's not clear whether the Knicks can continue to put themselves in the position of being able to limit Davis's minutes until Lin is ready to return. And it's not clear whether Amar'e Stoudemire can return in the 2-4 week timetable given by the Knicks, or whether the Stoudemire who returns will bear any resemblence to the man who dominated in March.
Anyone who tries to guess what this team will do next stands a good chance of being proven wrong. That much, 51 games into this 66-game season, we know.