NEW YORK -- Possession after possession, play after play, Carmelo Anthony elevated and fired, a maligned Madison Square Garden crowd desperate for a diversion roaring with his every stroke. For months Anthony had heard about his need to sacrifice, heard about his difficulties playing with Amar'e Stoudemire, heard about his need to change his game for the Knicks to achieve any real success. No more. With Stoudemire down for at least the next six weeks, maybe more, it was time to let 'Melo be 'Melo, and Anthony responded with a 30-point, 10-rebound effort in New York's 104-84 season-opening win over the Heat on Friday night.
This is the Anthony the Knicks need now, aggressive, gunslinging, able to carry the team on his broad shoulders. The Knicks moved the ball with surprising fluidity on Friday (27 assists), spreading the floor with a three-guard starting lineup and creating openings for an onslaught of three-point shooting (19-36), with Steve Novak (17 points), Raymond Felton (14) and Jason Kidd (12) leading the way. More often than not though the ball found its way into the hands of Anthony, whose 30 points led the team, whose 28 shots were 15 more than anyone else.
In a way, it was the perfect lineup for Anthony: A team capable of knocking down jumpers around him yet ready to yield to him when he wanted the ball.
"He's very motivated right now," said Tyson Chandler. "I've only been with him for two years but this is the most motivated I've seen him. He's doing so much, and not only what you saw in display tonight. But in the film room and walk throughs. He's changed. He's getting in early, putting up shots from everywhere, pulling guys aside to give them advice. He's being a great teammate."
The Knicks can win plenty of regular season games this way. Miami won't always be such a pushover, but beyond the Heat there are no teams that appear overwhelmingly daunting. Indiana is young, Boston is old, Chicago is injured. The Nets and Sixers are improved, but neither are all that intimidating. The Knicks have an aging roster -- yes that was 38-year old Rasheed Wallace, nearly two and a half years removed from his last game action, knocking down a three in garbage time -- but a deep one. If the defense -- which was decent against Miami -- holds up and the shooting can stay consistent, Anthony can carry New York to the finish line. He did it in Denver: In Anthony's last three full seasons with the Nuggets, Denver won 50 games each time.
The question is if 'Melo-ball can succeed in the playoffs, which is where Stoudemire re-enters the discussion. Assuming Stoudemire can return healthy -- no sure thing when you are dealing with a knee that has been carved up too often by a surgical knife -- the chemistry with Anthony will be critical. They looked like a lost cause last season -- when Anthony played well, Amar'e disappeared, and often vice versa -- something that can't happen for the Knicks to succeed in this one.
One solution: Bring Stoudemire off the bench. Knicks coach Mike Woodson has been resistant to it, though some scouts think he should. "I would," said an Eastern Conference scout. "Amar'e would terrorize second-line centers." Give each a leading role and let the hot hand have the ball in the fourth quarter.
It's a legitimate concern, though not one Woodson has to deal with for a while. With Stoudemire down it's defend, move the ball and let 'Melo lead the way. The Knicks gave a city still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy a reason to cheer on Friday. With this style and this player, there is no reason to think they can't do it a lot more.