MIAMI -- After the Knicks' 119-114 double overtime loss to the Nuggets last Saturday -- their sixth in a row -- a hobbled Carmelo Anthony was at a loss for words.
Melo, who was dealing with a sprained right ankle and left wrist, which led to his shooting woes, didn't know what to do. He even considered not suiting up for a couple of days. Some thought he should, considering the Knicks were facing the lowly Bobcats that Tuesday and the Cavaliers the following night.
But after playing in those two games, one in which against Cleveland he suffered a sprained right thumb, Anthony has decided to finally shut it down tonight in Miami, even in a matchup against LeBron James and the Heat, the team to beat in the East. Melo, in fact, was not getting better. He was even lying to himself by playing through the pain.
"I kept telling Coach I was alright, telling my teammates I was alright," Melo said addressing reporters during Friday morning's shootaround at the American Airlines Arena. "But at the end of the day, I just wasn't myself physically, and it was taking a toll on me mentally. We decided to shut it down for the next couple of days. The [training staff] considered it, but I never thought about sitting out. We felt like it was the best time to do it."
Mike D'Antoni considers Anthony day-to-day and he said the team is shooting for him to make a return Tuesday night at the Garden against the Pistons. That's when Baron Davis, who will not face the Heat, could also make a return. But nothing is guaranteed. What D'Antoni does know is that he absolutely needs his leading scorer, who's averaging 23.6 points per game, to be perfectly healthy.
"We've got to have him at 100 percent or we don't have a chance," said D'Antoni, who didn't name a replacement for Anthony tonight. It could likely be swingman Bill Walker.
It's clear that Anthony has been struggling, who had been shooting just 30 percent in the past five games. In Charlotte, he had the lowest-scoring game of his career, when he finished with one point. The next day, in Cleveland, he scored 15 points on just 5-of-14 shooting.
Anthony said it was "kind of hard" to make the decision not to play against the Heat. He wasn't the only one who was down about him not playing.
"It sucks," James said. "It's like playing the Lakers and Kobe [Bryant] is not playing or playing against Boston and Paul Pierce is not playing. They're guys you just like playing against. They're some of the best in the league. From an individual sense, I definitely love going against him. But this season, you can't jeopardize anything trying to be unhealthy, because every game counts in this shortened season."
Without Anthony, Tyson Chandler admitted it will affect the team, but he's confident his teammates will pick up the slack for him. Chris Bosh knows it, too. He said that anytime a player of Anthony's caliber is out, the team does take a hit, but it's a chance for guys to step up and show what they can do.
"I'm sure they'll be very eager to have a good game tonight," Bosh said, "so we have to come in, focus and play defense like we always do, and take care of business."
Even though Anthony is sidelined, the Heat will have its hands full with Amare Stoudemire, who's actually been more effective on the court this season with his star sidekick on the bench. Playing alongside Melo, Stoudemire has been averaging 21.6 points and shooting 47.3 percent from the field. But without Melo, STAT has been at 25.7 points and shooting 50.3 percent.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that without the widely-known ball-stopper Anthony in the offense, he expects the Knicks to run more "spread pick-and-rolls" to open up more opportunities for their 3-point shooters. Of course, the Knicks haven't been connecting from long range, shooting 30.2 percent (24th in the NBA), and they're coming off a 3-for-20 night in their loss to Cleveland.
"Their game will probably change to a whole lot more spread pick-and-rolls, getting you on the move with their 3-point shooters -- the game that they've been doing," Spoelstra said. "We've been drilling on that. It's good for us to see that. We saw it the other night and we were only good at it at times. We can be much better at it."
With the Heat surging right now, going 5-1 in their last six games, and the Knicks not at all, having lost seven in their last eight tries, Bosh still expects it to be a competitive contest.
"It's still the Knicks and the Heat," he said. "It's still a big game tonight."
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