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Saturday, March 10, 2012
Updated: March 11, 8:30 PM ET
Time is now for Melo to step up

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPNNewYork.com

Perhaps the day will come when Carmelo Anthony will be lucky enough to have us focus on things conspicuously ailing the New York Knicks -- instead of Carmelo Anthony.

Maybe Mike D'Antoni's coaching will provide a timely distraction, or the team's inability to get key defensive stops when it matters most. But for the moment, as the Knicks continue to descend like leaves in the fall, where else is there to look other than at the man who asked for the bright lights of Broadway?

"I love the pressure. I want it to be on me," Anthony said weeks ago, when Linsanity had officially taken over the basketball world. "To be elite in this game, you've got to want that pressure."

That's actually Part I.

Part II, however, is a bit more comprehensive. It actually involves doing something constructive once the pressure arrives and mounts.

We can accuse Anthony of a lot of things, but quelling the pressure elevating in his path isn't something he's done well, at all. Shooting near 40 percent this entire season and providing sporadic glimpses of his offensive greatness, the Knicks are just 12-18 in games Anthony has played. And the picture isn't getting prettier.

Statistics will tell us all that Anthony is averaging more than 20 points per game -- again! That he's never spent a day in his nine-year career averaging fewer than 20 points. It will point to his 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame, his ability to go inside-out, shoot threes, mid-range jumpers or score in the post.

It will detail everything but success -- and championships.

After watching Anthony shoot 7-of-17 from the field against the Bucks Friday night in yet another inexplicable loss, there's nothing but question marks attached to his name these days, and they've become too alarming to ignore.

Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony asked to play under the bright lights. Now he has to handle the pressure.

Can Anthony impact the game in another way other than scoring? Is he willing to do so? Is the problem really with Anthony's game or D'Antoni's coaching? Is it up to Anthony to adjust to Jeremy Lin or vice versa? In the end, does any of it matters on any team being led by Anthony?

Listening to some folks, "It does matter. I absolutely believe in Carmelo Anthony," former Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe told me in Los Angeles recently. "Like most other guys in today's game, there's always more to learn. But he can score from anywhere on anybody. When you have a player of his magnitude, you figure those things out. You don't cut bait."

On the other hand, "It won't matter but so much because it's who (Carmelo) is," Anthony's former coach, George Karl of the Denver Nuggets, said to me. "Most of the time he thinks he's the best offensive player on the floor, and he's usually right. But your ability to score the ball shouldn't solely define your game. Sometimes, that's not enough. In time, most players learn that."

Let's be frank: Melo doesn't have much time.

With the Knicks at 18-22, having lost four straight road games, they're only two games ahead of Milwaukee, who currently own a tiebreaker since they've beaten the Knicks twice this season.

For anyone who thinks the Knicks felt some heat after the Boston Celtics swept them in the first round of the playoffs last year, imagine what this offseason would be like.

D'Antoni's departure would be guaranteed. Consideration would be given to a shakeup in the front office, as well -- since James Dolan actually does leave most of the basketball decisions to them. But once the dust settled, you'd still have no choice but to look at the stars on this team.

With Melo, where's the true productivity?

"It's fair for anyone to call me out like that, because it's true," Anthony deadpanned during the All-Star break, alluding to his one appearance beyond the first round of the playoffs in his career. "The thing is, I can't break that mold in February or March. I've got to do it when it counts in April and May."

Actually, he's wrong. If he doesn't win games now, he won't get to the end of April or the month of May. And once taking into account Anthony's heroics as an offensive player, the mere thought of omission from the postseason should be deemed nothing short of intolerable.

One could easily look at the Knicks' 26-31 regular-season record since Anthony became a Knick. They could easily boast about Lin's exploits and the Knicks' subsequent resurgence and ask, "who needs Melo?"

Personally, my preference is to point to the career 24.7 point-per-game scorer and the man who, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is second only to Chicago's Derrick Rose (four times) for game-winning shots with 30 seconds or less to go to put his team ahead for good.

Anthony did it three times since arriving with the Knicks last February (tied with Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving).

Yet, "it all means nothing in the end," he said. "I know the deal. Believe me. We've got to get it done or else..."

He didn't finish the sentence. Not because he didn't need to as much as because he knows we'll all finish it for him.

It's time, Melo. It's time!