Can Melo lead the Knicks to the postseason?
HE'S DONE IT BEFORE
Let's not forget that without a dominant power forward playing alongside him, he took the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs seven straight years from 2004 to '10. Anthony was the Nuggets, like LeBron James was the Cavaliers from 2006 to '10 when they made the postseason.
While some critics view Anthony as an occasional ball-stopper and on-and-off defender, Anthony knows how to be a leader and back up guarantees. When Anthony received word Monday night before the Bucks game that Stoudemire would be out indefinitely, he said, "I've just got to step it up." And he did just that. He had his highest points total (28) since Jan. 20 (35) on respectable 8-for-20 shooting and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.
Anthony knows there's some kind of ongoing issue plaguing his right wrist, which he hurt on Jan. 12 in Memphis, and ever since then his field goal accuracy has dropped to around 40 percent. He even said last week "maybe it's something minor," but he never mentions the symptoms, if any, he's experiencing, and he doesn't use them as excuses. That's a great sign from your team's best player. He's not whining about anything and he starts games with an intensity you want to see this late in the season, especially with the Knicks still fighting to stay alive as the eighth seed in the East.
By setting the example from the top, Anthony's attitude has rubbed off on the team during its 7-1 stretch. They're all playing with sustained energy and effort throughout the game.
Melo is even making consistent hustle plays on defense. For example, he shut down Indiana Pacers All-Star Danny Granger in a home-and-home a couple of weeks ago. If he can just pick up his playmaking a bit and find his teammates more, the Knicks will become a much more dangerous team. He's averaging only 1.8 assists per game in his last four starts. Scouts tend to agree that when he starts to make his move off the dribble and then penetrates the lane, his eyes are more glued to the basket than the floor.
Overall, that consecutive seven-year streak proves Anthony can carry a team consistently to the playoffs.
But the biggest question is: How deep into the playoffs can the Knicks go without Stoudemire? Anthony got out of the first round only once, in 2009, and he'll need his frontcourt sidekick battling with him in the trenches to make a second-round appearance possible, and any rounds beyond that.
POOR HEALTH, NO JUMPER
Carmelo Anthony is ailing and can't find his jumper right now.
So how is he supposed to lead the Knicks into the playoffs if Amare Stoudemire misses the rest of the regular season?
Ever since Mike Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni, Melo is averaging just 15.8 points per game and shooting only 39.5 percent from the field -- including 20 percent from 3-point range.
Yes, the Knicks are 7-1 in that span. Yes, Melo went for 28 points and 12 rebounds against the Bucks and exploited them in the post without STAT in the lineup on Monday night.
But Melo has been bothered by a lingering groin injury since mid-February, and it's not like there's any rest time built into the schedule.
Speaking of the schedule, the Knicks have a much harder one down the stretch than Milwaukee, which trails New York by two games in the race for the No. 8 seed in the East with 16 games remaining.
Consider: The Knicks will play just seven of their last 16 games at home, and they still have to face Orlando twice, Chicago twice and Miami once.
The Bucks, however, will play 10 of their final 16 at home, and the only extremely difficult game they have left is Oklahoma City.
Woodson went with Anthony at power forward versus Milwaukee. It worked. But seriously, is Melo going to be able to guard traditional 4s or stretch 4s? No.
The Knicks could sure use Jared Jeffries. Whoever thought you'd be saying that?
In five games before being injured, STAT was averaging 18 points on 57 percent shooting.
Somehow Melo has to find his health and his jumper. That's not happening. Not all of it, anyway.
And that means the Bucks will be in, and the Knicks will be out.