It’s hard to comprehend how a smile can strike fear into opponents.
When a team facing the Knicks glances across the hardwood floor and witnesses a smile from ear to ear from Carmelo Anthony, there is going to be trouble.
In an Eastern Conference clash against the Bulls on April 8, Anthony was all smiles while dropping 26 points through three quarters at Madison Square Garden. He only missed nine shots heading into the final stanza as New York trailed by three points with 16 seconds on the game clock in what could have been a playoff eliminating loss.
The smile assassin received the rock in the backcourt, looked directly at Taj Gibson as Chicago opted for single coverage, and he launched a pull-up 3-pointer to tie the game at 91-91. In overtime with New York down two points and 13.2 seconds remaining in the contest, Anthony found the same sweet spot again and buried another dagger as Luol Deng became his next victim.
Trotting down the court with a gigantic grin, Anthony and the Garden crowd celebrated his sparkling 43-point overtime performance in a crucial 100-99 victory for the Knicks.
This scoring outburst occurred five days after Anthony scored 39 points in Indiana to jumpstart the month of April. With Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined due to a bulging disk in his back and Jeremy Lin rehabbing a surgically repaired knee, New York turned to its All-Star in the final stretch run to the postseason. The 27-year old maintained his torrid pace by scoring 32 in a pivotal win over Milwaukee, registering the most points by an individual on Miami this year (42), and back-to-back 30-plus games against Boston and New Jersey to help lift the Knicks to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Keep in mind, Anthony’s jaw dropping offensive outings have occurred against the league’s elite defensive teams. In April, he’s registered a combined 220 points while meeting Chicago twice, Indiana, Boston, and Miami. All these squads rank in the top ten in points allowed per game and field goal percentage allowed.
As a teammate of Anthony’s in the Mile High City, J.R. Smith has observed these types of prolific games before but he believes Anthony is playing at different level.
“I mean right now he is at the peak of his game. Nobody is even coming close to matching his play on the other end, so that’s what we need from him right now. As a leader of this team, I think he took on himself to respond well,” Smith explained.
Anthony has endured a bumpy season, battling a myriad of injuries to his wrists and groin. The 8-year veteran also dealt with a surrounding cast that shifted in and out of the lineup during the first 3 months of the lockout shortened year. In February, Anthony only averaged 16.5 points per game on 40 percent shooting and in March, his numbers increased a bit to 19.5 per game and 42 percent from the floor. It was clear; the nagging injury setbacks had a negative effect on his incredible offensive game.
The April of Melo has been a completely different story. Anthony’s tremendous array of offensive moves are in full display, including the jab-step, lighting quick pull-up jumper, off-the-dribble spin move in the paint, and the step-back jumper seen at every spot on the floor.
With Anthony jumping back into the conversation among the NBA’s top players, interim head coach Mike Woodson assessed his game after New York’s win over New Jersey, “He’s been solid throughout this whole run and I expect him to continue to play that way. He’s not only playing well but he’s making guys around him play better as well. That’s the sign of a great player in our league. “
Woodson added, “You know, I’m happy for Melo because there’s been a lot of heat on him when he came to New York and it’s nice to see the benefits of it right now.”
In April, Anthony is averaging 32.2 points per game, hitting a remarkable 51.4 percent from the floor, and hauling down 7.8 boards in 38.2 minutes of action.
“I don’t think I’ve felt like this in a while. Just feeling good about myself, feeling good my body and where I’m at, physically where I’m at. You know, mentally everything is clear, a lot of clarity right now,” Anthony concluded after scoring 21 of his 33 points in the first quarter against the Nets on Wednesday night.
A small forward for a majority of his career, Anthony shifted to the power forward position as the Knicks feature an altered lineup without Stoudemire in the frontcourt. Anthony has feasted on the blocks, facing slower defenders and finding himself closer to the rim for post-up opportunities. No.7 has elevated his output at the position and the result is a 9-4 record without the services of Stoudemire and Lin.
“Everything is just fun, being out there with the guys, winning basketball games. I told you guys when we were about to make this stretch run that these are fun times for me. I’ve been in the league nine years now and most of my career in Denver, we had chances and opportunities like this down the stretch and win basketball games and it’s getting fun right now,” Anthony expressed.
The joy has returned to Anthony at the exact moment when New York needed its captain to ignite a run to the postseason. With the playoffs looming, one thing is for sure, opposing teams that mistake Anthony’s demeanor will certainly not be smiling in the end.