- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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If now isn't the time, it'll never happen.
Not for the foreseeable future, anyway, for these New York Knicks. Not for a city craving a return to basketball relevancy beyond 82 regular-season games. And certainly not for Carmelo Anthony, the league's scoring champion and viable MVP candidate, under immense pressure to produce now more than ever before -- no matter what he says to the contrary.
It is perfectly within Melo's right to utter "No! None at all!" when asked if there's additional pressure resting on his broad shoulders. But taking into account his 1-8 playoff record as a Knick, his 17-38 career playoff record and just one -- yes, one! -- trip beyond the first round in nine postseason appearances, it's appropriate for anyone else to consider such banter utter nonsense and to make sure Melo knows exactly what's expected of him.
Let it be said here that the Knicks will win this first-round series versus the Boston Celtics in six games. That victory will involve the Knicks simply being a better team, having more depth and more firepower. It won't hurt that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have aged, Rajon Rondo is out for the season, and Ray Allen is busy trying to win a title in Miami.
Yet the reality is none of that should matter for the Knicks this year, at this moment, because they have Melo -- a man whose hunger and drive should supersede the 28.7 points he averaged per game this season.
How many times do you have to lose? When does fatigue kick in from watching his boys from the 2003 draft class (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) enjoy the kind of celebrations that have evaded Melo for his entire career?
"We ain't thinking about Miami right now," Anthony told reporters Thursday. "We'll let Milwaukee have to deal with that problem. We've got a big task on our hands, and that's the Celtics. No way we should be thinking about Miami at this time. We have a big enough task of our own."
Melo is correct. The Knicks should not be thinking about the Miami Heat at all, not with KG and Pierce on deck -- two individuals with a championship on their résumés -- along with coach Doc Rivers, who seems to exhibit a heightened level of excellence around this time of year.
It's important to acknowledge that Avery Bradley could cause Raymond Felton problems. That Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin may not be 100 percent, no matter what they say. And that J.R. Smith, regardless of his 18.1 points per game and imminent Sixth Man of the Year Award, is still a potential wild card -- purely due to the kind of defense Boston is capable of playing.
But if you're Anthony, you have to recognize that a scoring sensation such as yourself can't get outplayed by Jeff Green.
Omit Melo from the equation and the Celtics win this series. Count on Melo being the prolific, versatile scoring machine he has primarily been throughout his entire career and this should not be a series the Knicks end up losing.
"I'm 100 percent baby," Chandler told me at the premiere of Amar'e Stoudemire's documentary, "In the Moment," on Thursday. "As I told folks earlier, this is the best I've felt in a long time. It actually was a blessing in disguise I was able to get that time off, because now I'll have fresh legs throughout the playoffs. I'm excited about this long, long run we're about to endure.
"You know it's going to be a physical series because it's Boston. It's playoff basketball. It's two teams who don't like each other. But we're prepared for this. We don't have a choice."
Actually, the Knicks do.
Without a productive Melo, the Knicks have all the excuses in the world. Martin's knee. Both of Stoudemire's knees. Chandler's neck. Rasheed Wallace's retirement. Pablo Prigioni's ankle sprain. Bad luck. Questionable ownership. An inferiority complex. The Celtics, Pacers and Heat.
The same can't be said for Melo.
It's his team. His time. And if ever there was an argument to be made for it being his destiny, now would be the time.
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are not standing in his way this time. Neither are Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. There's no shame in losing to LeBron and the Heat, but being the No. 2 seed in the East comes with expectations. And that entails extending your playoff life beyond the first round for a second time in your career and beating everyone leading up to the Heat.
"It's been a long road, a long roller coaster," Knicks coach Mike Woodson told reporters Thursday, reflecting on the season. "We hung on as a team and put ourselves in the best position we possibly could. Despite our injuries, the fact that we are committed, we overcame."
They overcame an abundance of injuries during the season. Enough so that they were able to win the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1994, win at least 50 games for the first time since 1999-2000 and capture the second seed in the East.
So a berth in the Eastern Conference finals isn't too much to ask.
Especially from Melo.
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