Updated: December 12, 2012, 3:51 PM ET

1. Knicks Quickly Finding Recipe For Success

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Over the past few weeks, numerous New York Knicks players and their head coach have started a bit of a grassroots campaign for Carmelo Anthony to get most valuable player award attention.

They bring it up on their own in interviews, they attach "MVP" as an adjective to various accomplishments and they slip it into clichés. It's a little early for such talk, and the Knicks have enough veterans to know that. But the point may not be an appeal to voters but perhaps to Anthony himself: They want him to keep doing what he's doing.

The Knicks are not a team without flaws, and there are questions as to whether they can continue to make 3-pointers at a historic level. One thing is not in question, however. Right now the Knicks don't just have a difference-making offensive player to pair with Anthony, but they appear to have put the pieces around him to transform themselves into a legitimate contender.

Put them in a close game on the road -- a crucible that divides good teams and great teams as the season progresses -- and the Knicks have everything they need.

In short, they have the advantage. That could not be said about them last season, and that could not really be said about Anthony for most of his career.

Carmelo Anthony
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony is making an early case for MVP.

That was the message that emerged Tuesday when the Knicks won an emotional come-from-behind game against the Brooklyn Nets, 100-97. It was not unlike what they displayed in close victories they pulled out during the last week against the Charlotte Bobcats and Denver Nuggets.

Anthony did the heavy lifting, and he got help from a few teammates. Better put, he was willing to let a teammate or two to help him instead of playing hero ball and taking his chances, the unsatisfactory percentage rut that was the basis for all the Jeremy Lin-Anthony angst that dominated some of last season.

Last week in Charlotte, it was big baskets by Tyson Chandler and a clincher, albeit an ugly one, from J.R. Smith. Sunday, against Denver, it was Steve Novak starting a comeback with two 3-pointers before Anthony finished it off. Tuesday, Anthony had a brilliant 45 points on just 24 shots, the sort of efficiency that has often seemed out of reach for him, and he gave up the ball on the last possession, leading to a Jason Kidd game-winner.

"He doesn't get the credit he deserves for making the right plays, and he's been doing that all season for us," said Kidd, who was found wide open after the Nets were caught in rotation as they tried to help on Anthony with 24 seconds left.

"I mean, 45 points, he had every right to hold the ball and take the last shot."

Let's not brand Anthony an equal opportunist just yet. On a vital possession in the final two minutes the Knicks had a five-on-four on offense after Gerald Wallace was down at the other end and stayed sprawled on the floor. Anthony went one-on-one, leaving the rest of the team four-on-three. But he nailed the 15-footer to give the Knicks the lead because, well, he's pretty good at that, too.

Nonetheless, with players like Chandler, Kidd, Novak, Smith and even Raymond Felton -- who had a miserable all-around game Tuesday but came up with three important assists in the fourth quarter  Anthony has a core from which he's getting dependable support.

It's also proving to be a rather good defensive unit. The Knicks have dropped in the rankings from their excellent early start on defense -- they're now in the bottom half in field-goal percentage defense and the Nets piled on 53 percent shooting -- but they have shown they can get stops when they need to. With Chandler at the back, Kidd an expert on the wing and Anthony occasionally showing some defensive interest, the Knicks have the ability to tighten up and hold a team like the Nets to 36 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

"Games like this, these are the games we've got to win," Anthony said. "We claim to be a good team -- a great team -- and good teams win games like this, on the road in a tough atmosphere."

It can be easy to dismiss it saying the Nets were without Brook Lopez, and that's true. Without Lopez, the Nets are now 1-5 this season and they've lost the past five games that he's missed, sending their once strong start into a quagmire. They were especially bitter after this loss, blowing a 17-point first-half lead when they simply couldn't stop Anthony in the second half.

You can also dismiss fourth-quarter execution against teams such as Denver and Charlotte as well, if you so choose, branding them as less-than-stellar opposition. But the Knicks have their statement wins: two over Miami, one in San Antonio and Tuesday night's in Brooklyn. If they want to be around at the end, though, they'll need to win more games like the one against the Nets.

Seeing the way Anthony and his teammates have been getting it done, that road map is starting to take shape.

"Melo's a guy that gets us over the hump," Chandler said. "And the rest of us make a few plays and we win."


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