Bernard King was considering the challenge that comes with playing in New York and agreed that not many star players could handle it. Carmelo Anthony, he said, is the type who can.
That ability has been tested regularly over the past year, since Melo arrived in that blockbuster trade Feb. 23, 2011. That day he wore a beaming smile which a friend of mine, who is a longtime baseball writer, said reminded him of another star athlete and native New Yorker, Bobby Bonilla and his infamous challenge to the New York media when he signed with the Mets in 1992.
“I know you’re all gonna try,” Bonilla said, “but you’re not gonna be able to wipe the smile off my face.”
A year later he was goading a reporter into a fight and yelling, “I’ll show you the Bronx right here!”
No, not everyone can handle playing in New York. Not even people who are from here.
Carmelo Anthony is no Bobby Bonilla, but he is emotional. Don’t mistake that smirk on his face as being aloof. There is a fire burning inside him, one that he tries very hard to contain. Maybe too hard. It’s a fire that got the best of him as he jawed with an old rival, Shawn Marion, and got so caught up in it he mindlessly inbounded the ball to no one for a turnover.
It’s a fire that after a game such as the one he had in Dallas on Tuesday, needed time alone to burn out.
He avoided talking to the media after the game and went off to smolder on the team bus before he eventually agreed to chat with some reporters, off camera, about his maddening six-point game on 2 of 12 shooting.
Carmelo admitted to reporters something he’s tried to keep to himself, but is painfully obvious: that there is “quite an adjustment” for him to make in going from a primary scorer to merely an option. It’s not about a willingness to sacrifice — that’s been clearly stated — but it’s more figuring out how to play with a different mindset while still maintaining the killer instinct of a go-to scorer.
And doing it during the worst shooting season of his career. As if the challenge wasn’t difficult enough.
“He’s trying to find where he fits in . . . it’s up to the coaches and the players,” Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to find everything and get everyone comfortable.”
Melo looked comfortable in the fourth quarter on Sunday in Boston, when he was force-fed the ball in a one-on-one battle with Paul Pierce. He was 4-for-9 in the quarter and hit some big shots until he missed that potential game-winner at the buzzer.
This should be the ideal formula for D’Antoni: share the ball through three quarters, then go to Melo as the closer in the fourth. The problem is that Carmelo just hasn’t been in a good rhythm this season to simply turn it on in the fourth quarter on a given night. And his shot, especially his once deadly midrange game, has abandoned him for most of the past two months. He is also getting his shot blocked at an alarmingly high rate in recent games, with five in the last two games alone.
“He looks good in practice, he’s lights out in practice,” Amar’e Stoudemire said. “He works out every day, he’s in the weight room, so he looks good to me.”
You’re being kind, Amar’e. Melo has not looked good to me. Not since that game in Memphis on Jan. 12, when he injured his wrist and then twisted his ankle. Before then, he was one of the NBA’s leading scorers and most efficient players. Since then, he’s looked nothing like it. For such a gifted scorer, this season he has to work way too hard for his points.
“It’s our job to get him better looks and stuff,” D’Antoni said.
It’s Melo’s job to let the coach know if he’s not 100 percent healthy, too. Playing through pain is courageous, but if it negatively impacts your team, it’s counterproductive. If Carmelo can’t be Carmelo because he can’t power to the rim for a finish and can’t get the lift he needs for his quick, killer pull-ups, then he can’t expect to get the ball.
But if he can, he needs to let that fire burn hotter. He needs to show us Brooklyn.
IS THE ‘OLD STAT’ BACK?
One positive result of the loss in Dallas was signs of Stoudemire’s power game making a long-awaited return.
“Just going back to the old STAT, that’s all that is,” Stoudemire said.
He really meant the young STAT.
We saw some of this in early February, just before Stoudemire left the team to mourn the passing of his brother. Stoudemire acknowledged the need to get leaner after he bulked up this offseason and perhaps he’s starting to see the results after starting a new regimen during the all-star break?
“I came back in great shape,” he said. “Got my rhythm back out there on the court. And playing up-tempo basketball. That’s something teams are afraid of and we’ve got to get back to it.”
D’Antoni called it “a great step forward.”
What you have to like more than just the return of his power dunks is that he got himself going on the defensive end. He took on the challenge of defending Dirk Nowitzki, whom D’Antoni initially planned to assign to Tyson Chandler. But Stoudemire made a personal request to take on Dirk and was engaged throughout the game at the defensive end, which is an area of struggle for him.
After a slow first half, Nowitzki wound up winning the game for the Mavericks with a huge third quarter and some big baskets late.
“It’s never a shut-down whenever you play a great player,” Stoudemire said. He also added that Nowitzki “traveled on that last shot by the way. I saw the replay.”
Oh yes, the officiating… no, no, let’s not go there again.
BATTL-LIN SOME PHYSICAL PLAY
Jeremy Lin spent most of February lifting the Knicks off the tarp. In March, his teammates seem to be picking him up off the hardwood on a nightly basis. Despite denials by opposing coaches, who claim they’re just playing their usual defense — right — Lin is getting blitzed a lot up high with traps and he’s getting hit hard in the paint.
It’s the usual test of fortitude that comes with your arrival as a pro.
“That’s fine, physical,” Lin said after another beat-down against the Mavericks. “I got to shoot some free throws. I’m fine with taking a beating as long as I go to the line.”
Lin took a shot across the back of the head by Jason Kidd on a drive in the third quarter, which was compounded by crashing into Ian Mahinmi as he hit the deck. D’Antoni drew his second technical foul of the season when he blasted the officiating crew for not calling a flagrant foul.
“Anytime you get clobbered in the face… to ignore it is kind of tough,” D’Antoni said. “I deserved the technical, but it was probably one of those things where they didn’t see it. I was just trying to protect our guys.”
It shouldn’t just be up to D’Antoni to protect Lin in that situation. If you recall in the previous game against the Mavs, Jason Terry shoved Lin from behind and was called for a foul. Jared Jeffries then got in Terry’s face to let him know that won’t be tolerated.
Kidd, who raved about Lin after the first meeting, made sure to pat Lin on the back following the play. But it’s impossible to watch Lin continually get hit and punked — especially in Miami — without any response from his teammates.
TYSON’S RING SHINES ON PAINFUL HAND
“The moment,” Tyson Chandler said, “was amazing”
He received his championship ring from the Dallas Mavericks before the game to a rousing ovation. He held it high, but perhaps should have walked to his Knicks teammates and held it out for them to see and say: This is what we play for.
Chandler means as much to the Knicks as he did to the Mavs, who still miss his presence in the paint. But Chandler’s effectiveness right now is being squelched by an injured hand that requires him to wear a heavily padded glove that is causing him to fumble passes. It has made it difficult to catch alley-oops and has affected his ability to finish around the rim.
“It’s frustrating, there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “It kind of is what it is at this point.”
Chandler promised to keep his technical fouls in check in the second half of the season, but he picked up his 10th of the season in the fourth quarter when he argued that Nowitzki traveled. He’s now three from an automatic one-game suspension.
“I hope they take a look at this one,” he said of the NBA. “I deserved some technicals this year, this one wasn’t one of them.”
TV CAREERS BEGIN IN SAN ANTONIO
The Knicks look to complete a daunting back-to-back tonight in San Antonio, where not only are the Spurs 14-3 this season at home, but the Knicks haven’t won there in nine years. The last time the Knicks beat the Spurs at the AT&T Center was March 18, 2003, when Allan Houston (36 points) and Latrell Sprewell (17) led the way in a 105-97 victory.
The Spurs’ venerable Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili played in that game. Just as notable is that four guys who played for the Spurs that night are now working as broadcasters: Steve Kerr (TNT, NBA TV), Steve Smith (NBA TV), Bruce Bowen (ESPN) and Malik Rose (Comcast SportsNet).