Commentary

New Melo looks like the old fellow

Taking 28 shots to score 30 beats Heat in November, but that won't work in May

Updated: November 3, 2012, 10:10 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- From the heart Carmelo Anthony spoke to the fans, thanked them for their support in the wake of the historic storm, and then built himself a memorable opening night. He came, he scored, he conquered LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Anthony rang up 30 in the New York Knicks' opener, and by almost any measure it was a fine performance on the Garden stage. The franchise player led the home franchise to a 104-84 triumph over LeBron and the defending champs, the same bad guys who eliminated the Knicks in five in last year's first round.

Anthony scored 16 points to the Heat's 17 in the first quarter, when the Knicks took a 33-17 lead, and his 3-pointer to beat the buzzer felt like a right hook Miami never recovered from. The Heat were disengaged from start to finish, ultimately allowing the likes of Steve Novak the kind of open looks they forever denied him in the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Carmelo Anthony
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesLeBron James used to be a one-man team. It appears Carmelo Anthony still is.

Everyone who cares about the Knicks was happy on exit, and for good cause. The Heat were either suffering from last year's lingering champagne hangover or simply under the impression the game had indeed been canceled, as Dwyane Wade rightfully suggested it should've been out of respect for Hurricane Sandy's victims.

And no, those aren't the Knicks' problems. They played the Heat the way Ewing and Oakley and Mason always played them -- as if every defensive possession required an elbow, a hard shove, a goal-line stand on fourth-and-1. Mike Woodson, an old defensive coordinator and a graduate of Bob Knight's Big Ten, loved the physicality of the attack.

But this isn't about beating the Heat in November, no matter how much Jim Dolan thought this game was "good for New York" and an opportunity to give the city's residents "something to cheer about and take their minds off of things for a few hours." This is about beating the Heat in May, when James and Wade will be far more inclined to deny the Knicks a chance to shoot 19-of-36 from 3-point range.

In that context, Anthony needs to change his approach. He knows he cannot win an NBA championship playing this brand of basketball -- or he claimed he knows, anyway, on a preseason day when it was a whole lot easier to say the right things in the company of reporters than to do them a month later in the company of the Heat.

This is what Anthony said to tip off training camp:

"I'm done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game. I don't want that role anymore. It's what I do best. But in order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team. If I have to sacrifice on the offensive end, I'm willing to do it. It's easy for me to sit here and say it. But this year for me, it's going to be doing what I need to do to help this team win."

Friday night, the Knick who said he was done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points scored 30 while trying to score 35 or 40. He took 28 shots, made only 10 and contributed two assists to the cause. Even though he has more depth to work with this year, more wise veteran hands at his side, Anthony isn't going to beat the Heat in the playoffs with this approach, the same approach that failed to beat them last year.

Anthony is 17-37 in the postseason, 1-8 as a Knick, for a reason. Sometimes he has run into superior competition, and sometimes he has failed to elevate his teammates against beatable foes.

Anthony watched James become more of a team-centric superstar on the way to his own ghostbusting title, and Melo's preseason comments made it seem like he'd watched and learned. Another gold-medal Olympic experience with LeBron and Mike Krzyzewski's all-for-one, one-for-all way of doing things probably didn't hurt.

This season was going to be different, Anthony pledged, whether Amar'e Stoudemire was ever healthy enough get on the floor. Melo showed up in shape, Flab Melo no more. Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin were out of his hair, replaced by a coach who believed in Anthony's powers of isolation and by a point guard (Raymond Felton) who wasn't about to inspire a worldwide craze.

Lin was busy Friday night going for 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in another Houston victory led by James Harden (45 points), and surely that didn't change Anthony's opinion that the Rockets' purchase price of Linsanity was "ridiculous." Felton had his own measure of success against Miami, a team that famously swallowed Lin whole last winter, and his quarterbacking compelled Woodson to praise the way the ball moved "from side to side."

The Knicks did move the ball, no question. But Anthony wasn't among the movers. On muscle memory, he was the primary ball stopper. Miami will surely take that in the teams' next best-of-seven.

"For the most part," Anthony said, "the way we played tonight, the way we shared the ball, the way everybody touched the ball, everybody felt involved in the basketball game."

Felton and Jason Kidd made their marks at the point, and Novak drained five 3s and finished with 17 points against the team that held him to 12 points in five playoff games. Liberated by their championship, the Heat merely caved in and prepared for their game with Denver on Saturday night.

The Garden enjoyed the surrender and chanted "M-V-P" for Anthony while he took free throws in the final minutes.

"He's very motivated right now," Tyson Chandler said. "I've only been with him for two years, but this is the most motivated I've seen him. He's doing so much, and not only what [reporters] saw on display tonight. But also in the film room and walk-throughs. He's changed. He's getting in early, putting up shots from everywhere, pulling guys to the side to give them advice. He's being a great teammate. I think the summer experience [in the Olympics] definitely helped him."

Did it? On the superstar scoreboard Friday night, Anthony got his 30 on 28 shots while Harden got his 45 on 19 shots in Atlanta.

In the end, Anthony isn't going to win a ring by himself in New York any more than LeBron was going to win one by himself in Cleveland. Melo had a good night against the James Gang, a winning night, but it's only November.

This isn't going to cut it in May.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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