Melo No-Show…No Big Deal

As he walked into the tunnel toward the Knicks locker room after Tuesday’s 111-78 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, Mike D’Antoni should have imitated Joe Namath and run with his finger in the air.

No. 1, indeed. Carmelo Anthony‘s career-low one-point performance was a thing of beauty.

“Trust me,” Anthony said after the game, “I needed a night like this.”

More than even he may have ever known.

Melo is banged up and his wrist — and now thumb — are aching and it has affected his shooting touch lately. If healthy, maybe he doesn’t stop at seven shots last night. But this was a perfect opportunity to stick to the gameplan and see how it works. And what did we notice? Not one play resulted in an isolation. And on almost every single possession, at least three players touched the ball before a shot went up.

“It was a little step forward,” Mike D’Antoni said with cautious optimism. “We’ll see.”

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s first acknowledge that the Bobcats right now are just a very bad team, so they didn’t put up much resistance. But if this was nothing more than a glorified practice scrimmage, it still was important in the effort to work on the offense and find timing and spacing.

And, perhaps, to prove how it can work when you forget about “your” numbers and just play within the flow of the system.

“Our whole philosophy is that everybody should play with the same amount of energy and the ball flows,” D’Antoni said. “Some nights it finds Tyson [Chandler], some nights it finds Melo and some nights it finds Amar’e [Stoudemire]. And once that ball moves around and we do the right things and follow the script  … we should never plan on something, we just need good ball movement.”

This follows the doctrine of the franchise’s most successful coach, Red Holzman, who implored his players to “find the open man.” On a given night, the open man would just emerge as a result of the opponent’s defense or matchups.

That was why, at first, no one believed Earl Monroe, one of the game’s great improvisational players who thrived in the one-on-one game, could fit within the share-first mentality that was standardized by Walt FrazierWillis Reed,Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley. But Monroe wanted to prove people he could play within a team concept. In accepting the trade to the Knicks, he sacrificed statistics — his career averages dropped significantly once he came to New York — in exchange for winning a championship.

If Melo can accept not being among the NBA’s top scorers — and dismiss those needling journalists who will see this and suggest he’s lost his status as an elite scorer — the Knicks could thrive.

“Even if he doesn’t take a shot in an entire game, the other team has to respect him,” Chandler said of what we’d call The Melo Effect. “They’re never going to leave him … A lot of the shots we got tonight came off his effort.”

It wasn’t as if Melo was completely invisible. He matched Landry Fields‘ team-high of five assists and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also looked intent on firing long outlets to get the Knicks out on the break. So he may not have made a shot from the field — and he would have been shut out had it not been for a senseless technical by Tyrus Thomas — but Melo had an undeniable impact on the game.

“If I’m just out there I can do other stuff, like rebound the ball, get 11 boards and five assists,” he said. “That’s big-time for me.”

Of course when a game comes down to final possessions, he still would be one of the most dangerous weapons in the game.

Trust is a big part of this, too. Melo can let the game flow when the Knicks aren’t bricking shots and losing by 10. But the competitor inside him emerges when no one else can score and, lately, that’s been a serious issue. For instance, he’ll kick it out to Fields in the corner for missed three-pointer only so many times. That’s a page out of the Kobe Mentality.

So much of what we said here is all so nice and idealistic. And this is why D’Antoni wasn’t about to get too excited after just one game.

AMAR’E A LATE ARRIVAL?

Stoudemire’s 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting was as close to his form from last season as we’ve seen so far in 2011-12. He moved very well and showed great explosion toward the rim on a pair of vicious dunks and made a few rhythm mid-range jumpers. We’ve all been wondering what happened to his trademark explosion and athleticism in the early season and he broached that subject with MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio after the game.

“The lockout and not being able to train because of my back this offseason, so I’m slow to get back into a rhythm,” he said. “I’m glad my fans are being patient with me, but it’s getting better.”

BARON’S IMPENDING RETURN

Baron Davis wasn’t happy with his performance in a three-on-three scrimmage after the team’s morning shoot-around in Charlotte. But the most important news that remains consistent after his first workouts with the Knicks is that he has not experienced any physical issues with his back injury.

What remains to be seen is if he dresses for tonight’s game in Cleveland, where he could get some spot minutes just to begin the process of acclimating to game conditions. It is believed Davis will get into a game sometime during this four game road trip. What needs to be accepted is that he will have some rust to shake off along the way, so fans — and certain pundits — need to view this accordingly and not as some instant solution. With very little practice time during this compressed season, finding Davis minutes during games may be the only way to get him ready.

On a side note, while Davis’ tenure with the Clippers tainted his career — he never got along with contentious coach Mike Dunleavy and lost his fire while focusing on a film career in LA — those who dealt with him in Cleveland said he was an outstanding part of the team. Several insiders say Davis provided great leadership in the locker room for a young team in transition after LeBron James’ departure and he showed he still had plenty of game left. He was, however, much heavier than he is now.

TYSON SETS THE STANDARD

Chandler has been one of the most vocal leaders in the locker room. As the only one with a championship ring, he does have the cachet to do it. But he also has led by example, with his intensity on defense and holding teammates accountable at that end of the floor. And against the Bobcats, he saw the obvious size advantage the Knicks had over Charlotte and made sure to get the most of it. Chandler’s 17-rebound performance, which included eight offensive boards, was as dominant as he’s had this season.

And, yes, he had 20 points, which promotes some to think that he was somehow more involved in the offense than before. Truth be told, there weren’t many plays run for Tyson because he’s not that kind of player. Instead, he made most of his offense off misses by his teammates (how many bunnies did Iman Shumpert miss?). That’s where his impact is best felt.

But this is another example of what we discussed above, how on a given night, depending on the matchup, one or two players can provide the scoring. The Bobcats had no one to match up with Chandler on the boards (remember, he had 20 points and 13 rebounds in his previous game against the ‘Cats). Another night, he might be tied up in a box-out battle with Dwight Howard or Joakim Noah or, as tonight in Cleveland, Anderson Varejao. It all depends on the opponent.

Last night was his night to dominate.

FIXINS

Landry Fields (18 points) did a terrific job staying aggressive on offense for a fourth straight game and he thrives when the Knicks push the tempo. He’s averaging 15.7 points per game over that stretch and yet still is struggling from downtown. If he can ever get that three-point stroke going, Fields will be back to his form from last season . . .

Steve Novak came in during garbage time and drilled three from beyond the arc. If only his defense was just slightly more reliable — slow feet and lack of athleticism are a major issue at the forward position in the NBA — he could earn more minutes. The Knicks could certainly use his shooting . . .

Even after a great game, trade rumors always seem to take precedence in a postgame interview. Chandler last night was asked about a report that the Orlando Magic have inquired about a scenario that involved he and Stoudemire going to Orlando in a deal for Dwight Howard. He just grinned and said, “That comes along with the territory. There’s always stuff that comes up. It is what it is.” Chandler, who signed in the preseason, can’t be traded until March 1, kids. So, like Guy sang, let’s chill.