Updated: March 23, 2011, 6:12 PM ET

LeBron Empathizes With Melo, Knicks

Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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LeBron James & Carmelo AnthonyJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesMonths after his rough start in Miami, LeBron watches from afar as Melo adjusts to New York.

MIAMI -- For LeBron James, the signs are all familiar.

The initial discomfort in a new system. The frustrating losses. The growing pains. The private bickering, questioning and second-guessing. The attitude issues. Even the turbulence during particularly heated timeouts.

And yes, the breakdowns against the Boston Celtics.

James knows that script all too well. He's lived it during the honeymoon period with the Miami Heat, the one that sent the team into a brief stretch of disarray following a difficult 9-8 start.

The Heat have been there.

The New York Knicks are there now.

So as he watches his close friend and 2003 draft classmate, Carmelo Anthony, sputter through a similar rough patch in his transition with the Knicks, it's not difficult for James to shift away from his job as a competitor and step into the role of a confidant and counselor.

With James' Heat in third place in the East and Anthony's Knicks a game behind the Sixers for the No. 6 spot, the two could very well be on a collision course as potential opponents in the first round of the playoffs next month. But for now, they are charting a parallel path.

"I know exactly what he's going through right now," James said, of Anthony's more-difficult-than-expected indoctrination with the Knicks. "I understand exactly what he's been saying. Do the people, the fans and the media in New York want to hear that? I don't think so. But I know exactly what it means. And it's going to take time. Everybody knows we were 9-8. We had to figure things out. And we're still figuring things out. Once they figure it out, it'll be fine. It's not going to be a bed of roses."

For Anthony and the Knicks, the process has been about as comfortable as a bed of thorns. James has watched from afar as Anthony has had a difficult time adjusting with the Knicks. New York is 7-9 since it acquired Anthony and Chauncey Billups from Denver in a trade that sent starters Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton, along with backup center Timofey Mozgov, to the Nuggets last month.

Like the Heat, the Knicks sacrificed a promising supporting cast to load up a top-heavy roster anchored by Anthony, Billups and Amare Stoudemire.

But unlike the Heat, the Knicks made a major transition on the fly and are now trying to work out the kinks over the season's stretch run. It has resulted in the Knicks taking a step back in the standings, in hopes that things eventually kick into gear and allow the team to spring forward into the postseason.

But it has been a trying time. The Knicks showed potential by beating James and the Heat in Miami the week after Anthony arrived in New York. But they've also displayed stretches of pathetic play, including being swept by the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers and watching the Celtics erase a nine-point deficit during a game-winning 23-4 run on Monday.

The Heat had those same kind of growing pains while trying to mesh James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, particularly early in the season. Anthony reportedly walked out of a timeout huddle in frustration during a game last week. James caused a stir when he bumped coach Erik Spoeltra as he walked toward a timeout huddle during a loss to Dallas in November.

Anthony is coming off a game in which he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter of a loss. James went through a stretch recently that, in four consecutive losses, he missed shots in the final seconds that could have tied the game or given the Heat the lead.

James said looking at the Knicks is almost like peeping into a time machine that takes him back to the start of the Heat's season.

"People think that just because you put great talent together that it's automatically going to work from the start," James told ESPN.com, about the similarities between the Heat and Knicks. "But it doesn't work like that. It takes time for chemistry. It takes time for cohesiveness. It takes time for people to understand where you like the ball, where you want the ball. And it starts with building those relationships off the court."

James acknowledged that his play and comfort level in Miami improved after the lines of communication opened up between the Heat's key players. James, Bosh and Wade repeatedly refer to moments on team plane rides, during individual film sessions and at late-night dinners that their relationship with one another improved.

That connection, ultimately, transferred to the court on game nights. Anthony and Billups already have some built-in chemistry. But the Knicks are trying to work those two into a rhythm with Stoudemire.

"Just as much as you have to be close on the court, you have to be even closer off the court sometimes," James said. "You have to know some exact things about the players you're with. You have to know, when you get into the fire and everything, who's going to be behind you and what to expect."

As far as that cohesion goes, Anthony sounds a lot like James did earlier in the season.

"It's a process," Anthony told reporters after practice in New York on Tuesday. "It's a long process. We have a little bit under a month to get this thing right to get ready for the playoffs. And right now, we're just figuring it out on the go. As long as we figure it out by the time the playoffs come, I'm not really too concerned about what's going on right now and how it's going on."

As Anthony and the Knicks try to get on the same page, James is relieved the Heat, who have won five of their past six, seem to be finally turning the page of some of those lengthy chapters on chemistry.

"I don't know their situation as far as being hands-on with their situation in New York," James said. "But I know what I see from the outside looking in. We all had to work through out setbacks. I know that's what [Anthony] and those guys are trying to do, just like we had to do."

Right now, Carmelo's Knicks are a work in "on-the-fly" progress.

LeBron knows the blueprint. His Heat team is just a bit further along in the process.

Top 5 Leading Award Candidates

With less than a month left in the regular season, the races for the league's top five awards remain up for grabs. The only one that's a no-brainer is rookie of the year, which Clippers forward Blake Griffin will win in a landslide. So let's examine how the other major award watches shape up down the stretch.

Rose

1. Most Valuable Player

Derrick Rose, Bulls: With their stats and impact fairly even, all Rose had to do to stay a nose ahead of James was keep his Bulls a slight step ahead of the Heat. Rose has done that, leading Chicago to the top spot in the East and a 3-0 season sweep of Miami.

Runner up: James, Heat
Gaining steam: Kobe Bryant, Lakers

2. Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs: The Lakers, Heat and Celtics got all the hype. But the Spurs set the pace from the start and are on course to finish with their best record in team history. Pop has been as creative and innovative as ever.

Runner-up: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls
Gaining steam: George Karl, Nuggets

3. Defensive Player of the Year

Howard

Dwight Howard, Magic: He'll get his third straight defensive POY trophy this season, putting him one shy of joining Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace as the only four-time winners. No one rebounds, blocks and alters shots better.

Runner up: Andrew Bogut, Bucks
Gaining steam: Joakim Noah, Bulls

4. Sixth Man of the Year

Jason Terry, Mavericks: His scoring is slightly down, but his assists are up and his impact has been remarkably consistent in Dallas. This role -- and award -- seems tailor-made for Terry, but there is quality competition this year.

Runner up: Lamar Odom, Lakers
Gaining steam: Serge Ibaka, Thunder

5. Most Improved Player

Love

Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Losses don't diminish the record-setting streak of 53 straight double-doubles. At 20.3 points and an NBA-best 15.4 boards, he's posting more than six points and four rebounds per game than last season.

Runner-up: LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers
Gaining steam: Dorell Wright, Warriors

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