10:33 am Mar. 21, 2013
Wednesday night, things returned to what had been normal for the New York Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony, with a freshly drained knee and feeling fine, looked like the Anthony who'd been the team's most valuable player, and nothing like the shell who'd played a pair of games on last week's western road trip, injured, before having his knee fixed.
Anthony scored 21 points in 32 minutes, the Knicks made 15 threes, and the Orlando Magic were no real obstacle, falling behind early and losing to the Knicks, 106-94.
Almost immediately, it was clear that Anthony's time off and decision to get his knee drained had transformed his game. In the first quarter, he rose to meet a Marcus Camby pass near the basket and slammed it home. It is precisely the kind of play he couldn't give the Knicks when his knee was ailing in recent weeks.
Anthony seemed to move effortlessly, finding open threes and rising to shoot them, defending aggressively, and giving observers some reassurance that a Knicks team seemingly falling apart had, at least, its offensive core back.
“Big-time relief,” one particularly interested observer, Knicks coach Mike Woodson, said of Anthony’s first shot. “It let me know Melo is being Melo.”
The crowd at Madison Square Garden didn't seem excited, as it had earlier in the season. Perhaps the fans were still reeling from the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire, or Tyson Chandler, or the constant drumbeat of other injuries, the latest to Kurt Thomas.
However subdued the reaction of the crowd was, Anthony certainly sounded pleased.
“I felt different as soon as I walked out of the hospital,’’ Anthony said. “I was pain-free tonight. As far as stamina, I felt pretty good. I didn’t feel fatigued."
The reality of the current Eastern Conference continues to be that the Miami Heat float above it, while the right to probably lose to them in the Eastern Conference finals remains up for grabs. Getting Anthony back and healthy is only part of the puzzle the Knicks need to put together over the final 16 regular-season games to make a claim on that spot. Chandler needs to be back and healthy, too, and there are numerous other lineup and rotation issues to sort out.
But without Anthony healthy and thriving, the rest of it would be moot.
It was a welcome sight at Madison Square Garden. Now the hard work of putting the rest of the team back together can begin.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Deron Williams thrives on grudges, scoring 31 against a Mavericks team owned by Mark Cuban (who had criticized Williams) in a 113-96 win.
Derek Jeter might open the season on the disabled list.
Shaun Marcum will miss at least a start with a shoulder impingement.
The ten teams making up the new Big East were announced Wednesday.
The N.C.A.A. tournament begins just after noon Thursday, so get those brackets finished.