Down the stretch on Sunday afternoon, with the Knicks neck-in-neck with the Heat, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James guarded each other. While James had the bigger fourth quarter -- and the Knicks made a couple of boneheaded plays to lose the game -- he didn't score when Melo was on him, which helped lead to a competitive finish.
Not many players can hang with James, but Anthony can with his unique physical and mental skill set. It's rare to find a player who embodies size (6-8, 235 pounds), strength, quickness and toughness, but Melo has all those qualities -- and they will come in handy against another versatile top talent in Kevin Durant on Thursday night.
In fact, since Anthony -- who's questionable for tonight with a sore and stiff right knee -- has gone head-to-head with Durant since 2007, Melo's teams have an 11-1 record. Melo's only loss to his fellow Olympian came on April 6, 2008, during Durant's rookie season, when the Nuggets fell short in a double-overtime thriller. The three other times Durant, currently the league's leading scorer at 28.6 points per game, beat Anthony's team was when Melo didn't play due to injury.
While Anthony has been known to take some plays off defensively to conserve energy for his heavy offensive load, when he's playing against the best, such as James and Durant, he accepts those assignments.
"He can defend, but only when he wants to," a veteran NBA scout said. "Melo has to feel challenged; then he steps it up on the defensive end. He's one of the most pure scorers in basketball, but if he guarded every night, he'd be scarier."
Here's a look at the impact Anthony has had defensively against Durant in their last matchups:
Melo on bench: Durant was plus-23, played 53 minutes, scored 40 points and shot 53.6 percent from the field
Melo on court: Durant was negative-24, played 95 minutes, scored 74 points and shot 43.5 percent from the field
Melo on bench: Durant was plus-17, played 45 minutes, scored 46 points and shot 60.9 percent from the field
Melo on court: Durant was negative-3, played 36 minutes, scored 20 points and shot 40 percent from the field
"I always believed Melo could be a great defender," Anthony's longtime trainer, Idan Ravin, said. "He is tall, long, strong, agile, quick, powerful, moves well laterally and has a heart like a lion. The irony is that he is such an amazing offensive player that his defense often gets overlooked. Over the years, I learned Melo is up for any challenge, and his talent and competitive spirit will always overcome. So if you challenge Melo to defend, he will give you that and more."
Looking ahead, what will aid Anthony's defense if his perimeter teammates -- specifically Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith -- can attack the paint better to facilitate smarter plays; not shoot so much. If they can make the game easier on Melo, he won't have to grind as much for points, and, therefore, that will boost his effectiveness on the other end of the floor.
"He really does have to work too hard right now," the scout said.
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