Before this year, Carmelo Anthony's April outings (26.7 points per game) have usually been about on par with his career points average (25). But this April, he has jumped out to a sizzling start, scoring 35-plus points in four straight games -- the first Knick to accomplish that since Bernard King in the 1984-85 season.
On Monday, with no surprise, Anthony was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Mike Woodson said his star player's surge has been "beautiful to watch" during Knicks' 12-game winning streak.
"He's been consistent," Woodson said on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "Melo's game has jumped a notch. He's older, he's more mature and it should get better. He's still in his prime, so you've got to expect that.
Anthony's 36-point performance in Sunday's rare win in Oklahoma City made him the NBA's leading scorer, just 0.09 points per game ahead of Kevin Durant (28.44 to 28.35). It's shaping up to be one of the closest scoring title races in league history, along with George Gervin and David Thompson in 1977-78 (0.07 margin), Durant and Kobe Bryant in 2011-12 (0.17), and Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal in 1997-98 (0.42).
Besides Woodson's factors, here are five others that have boosted Melo's play:
1. Health. He has recovered well from having his right knee drained. His lift is better off the ground, especially evident in his turnaround jumper and hang time. For example, he had two early dunks against the Bucks on Friday -- not his typical game -- and against the Thunder, he blew by Durant quickly for a dunk and converted a difficult reverse layup in traffic.
2. Key matchups. Recently, teams have been double-teaming Anthony less to try to eliminate the Knicks' threat from downtown. That has enabled him to expose mismatches more against power forwards, who are not used to guarding a skilled shooter and slasher with roughly the same frame. As a result, he has been scoring more in the paint (21-for-34 in the past four games).
3. More aggressive. In four of the Knicks' past six games, he's had double-digit rebounding games and has been the best player in the league at putbacks. Case in point: He had nine offensive boards against the Thunder. This is vital for the Knicks, who have a banged-up front line.
4. Improved defense. During their winning streak, the Knicks have been fourth-best in opponents points allowed per game (92.3). Those extra stops enabled them to push the ball better and Melo has thrived in transition, from finishing fast-break layups to setting up for 3-point shots as a trailer. The overall faster pace has also helped him in half-court sets, where he's quickly putting shots up off one to two dribbles.
5. Better offensive creativity and screens. The other day, Woodson said he has been "running a little bit of everything" -- for example, additional double-screen formations -- which has led to Anthony catching the ball with room to shoot in different areas. That puts more pressure on defenses to keep up with him, along with his 3-point shooting teammates. With those different half-court sets, the Knicks -- from Tyson Chandler to Pablo Prigioni -- have been setting harder screens to free up Melo and others. "Everybody's buying in and everybody is holding each other accountable," Woodson said.
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