Beasley, Knicks Spoil ‘Bittersweet’ Return For Melo

5 Thoughts on the Win:

1. There are varying emotions when it comes to Carmelo Anthony. Mine come from a place of frustration, not from the end result but for what could have been — or should have been — in his Knicks career. Though he is at the epicenter, he is not solely at fault for why the Melo Era in New York failed to see it’s potential.

I was there on the court talking to Al Trautwig during the pregame show for MSG Network as Melo took the court for the first time in his first game as a Knick on Feb. 23, 2011. I was there again, on the court, with Wally Szczerbiak, talking to Trautwig, for MSG Network in Melo’s first game back as a former Knick. And as we were coming back from commercial break, I watched Melo jog by, with his hoodie up and an all-business look in his eyes and suddenly a Beatles song came into my head.

Once there was a way…to get back homeward…
Once there was a way…to get back home…

Melo has never been the most eloquent speaker, but he’s always been honest. After the game, he struggled to find the right words to describe his feelings, but toward the end, he finally found the phrase that best described the night.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling, for me,” he said.

Yes. Exactly.

“Coming back here, knowing the goals that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short of that,” he continued, “it’s a bittersweet feeling for me.”

He said this after scoring just 12 points in his return. He was scoreless in the second half, shot 5 for 18 and was outplayed by his counterpart, Michael Beasley (30 points), who is on a veteran’s minimum salary and was filling in for the injured Kristaps Porzingis.

He said this after he heard The Garden roar like it once did for him, but now they’re not cheering for an individual performance but the effort and resilience of a team that has become so likable despite its flaws and limits. On Feb. 23, 2011, Melo brought hope to them. All these years later, there’s something new to believe in.

So they took a moment to thank him as they applauded over a classy video montage of Melo’s great moments on the court and the many unheralded things he did through charity work off the court. When he was introduced, they roared.

Then, as Melo said, “it was back to business.”

The Thunder returned to Oklahoma City on Sunday, but Melo left a part of him here. It was clear, the video and the reception meant a lot to him.

“That goes a long way for me,” he said as he thanked team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry and the Knicks organization. Perhaps a sign that the wound was starting to heal.

[Watch Knicks-Hornets Monday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Paul George, for one, certainly took notice. Earlier this week he made his return to Indiana against his former team, the Pacers, and “didn’t necessarily receive that type of response in Indiana.”

The difference is Paul George asked to leave Indiana. Melo agreed to leave New York because the team needed to move on.

Nevertheless, this will always be home for him. And there will be a way back.

But the memories of his career here will always be bittersweet.

2. To paraphrase Lisa Simpson, that first item was filled with so much sap you probably could dip a pancake in it. Let’s talk about a season-high four-game winning streak, shall we?

Of the many tweets I get during the postgame show — and we love them, so keep ’em coming! — I thought @s_nadler nailed it:

It does feel different, but as I wrote in the previous blog, there is one worrisome parallel and it has to do with health. Kristaps Porzingis missed the game with what the team called a “sore knee” (more on that later) and Tim Hardaway Jr. remains out with the stress injury. Last season after 16-13 the team went into a tailspin because of injuries and schedule fatigue.

But let’s leave the Doomsday Prophecies to others and acknowledge the terrific coaching job done by Jeff Hornacek and his staff to not only get the most out of players such as Beasley and Doug McDermott and — no one saw this coming — Jarrett Jack as a starting point guard, but to also create an environment that has resulted in amazing team chemistry and a notable all-for-one, one-for-all mentality that is the foundation of this group’s likability.

Let’s also acknowledge that Monday night in Charlotte represents the last of what has been a two-week run of ‘soft’ scheduling. Just seven games over 14 days and not a single back-to-back. All seven opponents have losing records. The Knicks record over the first six going into the game against the Hornets? 5-1.

That’s how you take advantage of your schedule.

[Watch Knicks-Hornets Monday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

What comes after Christmas is daunting: 16 of 20 games are on the road for a team that is just 2-8 on the road this season. January is a beast and it could decide whether or not the Knicks are true contenders for a playoff spot. That’s why you make sure Porzingis is healthy and you take your time getting Hardaway Jr. right.

This team has shown admirable resiliency in the first 29 games of the season, but the real test awaits in the new year.

3. All those who believed the Knicks should have waived Beasley when Joakim Noah came off of his suspension back in November raise your hand.

[raises hand]

Szczerbiak won’t let me live that one down. Beasley has been a revelation for the Knicks and suddenly is a very valuable player as one of the few who can create his own offense. His 30-point performance against Melo and the Thunder seemed almost effortless as he shot 11 for 18 from the field.

And he is, legitimately, my favorite player’s favorite player, since Wally loves him so much.

Why does Wally love him? Simple, Beasley has the scorer’s mentality. When he misses a shot, he’s already thinking about the next one. He’s all about FGAs and getting buckets and for a player whose career was on life-support and wound up in China — and earned MVP honors — just two years ago, he’s had a bit of a revival in the new NBA.

At a wiry 6-foot-9, Beasley was somewhat of a tweener early in his career. He wasn’t a good enough perimeter shooter to play the three, but was too thin to be a post-up power forward. In this era of small ball, however, Beasley can thrive at the four spot and that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s also become incredibly efficient.

This season, Beasley is shooting 52% from the field in 23 games. Over the last 99 games of his career — with stops in Houston, Milwaukee and New York — he’s shooting 52.6% from the field.

So as the Knicks enjoy this surprising production out of a player they added late in the offseason, it’s natural to imagine what his role can be once the roster gets back to full health. Could Beasley off the bench emerge into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in a consistent role?

4. Speaking of the bench, while the group didn’t keep pace with the 44 points per game it averaged over the previous four games, it did put up 23 of its 33 points in the second half. A huge part of it was, once again, Ron Baker, who is playing with a great deal of confidence.

Baker made 3 of 4 from downtown to finish with 11 points in 17:35. Over the last five game he’s played, Baker has made 7 of 13 from three-point range and shooting 55.6% from the field overall.

[Robbins: Baker Reminding Knicks What He Brings to the Table]

Baker was one of six Knicks in double-figures (Kyle O’Quinn fell one point shy of making that seven players) and he was also one of three Knicks to make three from downtown. The team made 14 of 23 from three-point range and 12 of the 14 threes came off assists.

The three-point shot hasn’t been a big part of the Knicks offense, as they still rank toward the bottom of the league (29th) in three-point attempts per game (22.5). They are rising toward the upper third of the league in three-point percentage, however, as they are currently at 36.8%, which ranks 12th in the league.

Over the last three games, they have made 33 of 65 from downtown. Seems Hornacek’s focus on getting the guards to drive into the paint to create more kick-out threes has paid off.

5. Hornacek also said it was very important for the Knicks to win without their star, Porzingis, by playing — and trusting — team ball. It was the first time the Knicks won a game this season without KP in the lineup, but they did come through in games he left early, such as against the Heat and the Nets.

Porzingis, who tweaked his knee against the Nets on Thursday, tried to give it a go with a pregame workout and there was some hope he might be available, but about an hour before game time, it was announced that he was out. Hornacek said after the game that Porzingis “wasn’t feeling right” on some of his usual moves, which involve a lot of pivoting.

The concern for him was the potential of making it worse. It allows criticism about his durability and willingness to play through injuries, but knowing what waits ahead in January, it does make sense to make sure he’s as close to full health as possible. And we all know the most important games will come in March and April.

At least that’s the hope.

[Watch Knicks-Hornets Monday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]