SAN ANTONIO -- Carmelo Anthony makes his return for the New York Knicks on Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs after a three-game absence due to a left ankle injury suffered in the Dec. 23 win over the Orlando Magic.
Melo’s return is not a moment too soon for New York, which dropped all three of its games without him and faces a Spurs squad tied for the third-best record in the league.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson told gathered reporters before the game that there wouldn’t be any minutes restriction for Melo against the Spurs, that how much Anthony played would depend on how the league’s third-leading scorer was feeling.
“He’ll kind of lead me that way and let me know how he’s feeling once he’s out there,” Woodson said.
With Melo’s return to the lineup, J.R. Smith moves to the bench and reprises his role as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Smith averaged 16.7 points on 38 percent shooting, with 6.7 rebounds and five assists in his three games replacing Anthony in the starting lineup.
In New York’s Nov. 10 loss to the Spurs, Anthony scored just 16 points on 10 shots, thanks in part to San Antonio’s insistence on double-teaming him with frequency. It’s a tactic the Spurs employ on the majority of the league’s top scorers, but one Woodson and the Knicks expect.
“He’s going to have to be a facilitator,” Woodson said. “When he’s doubled, he’s gotta get rid of the ball and we gotta put people in position around him to release the ball and that pass might lead to something good.
“But they’re going to double him, we know that for sure, other guys just gotta step up and make plays.”
The Knicks will need a complete game from Anthony to beat the Spurs. San Antonio is a team that rarely plays down to its opponents in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era. This season the Spurs are undefeated against teams below .500, boasting a 16-0 record.
Injury updates: Before the game, Woodson also updated the status of three of New York’s other injured players. Metta World Peace and Pablo Prigioni did not travel with the team on its current three-game Texas road trip, instead staying behind for treatment. Raymond Felton did travel with the team, but his return to the lineup is uncertain.
“I don’t know if he’ll practice any; we probably will practice him on Saturday, but just gotta continue to rehab him and then let me know that he’s ready to go,” Woodson said.