NEW YORK – Before breaking a team record, Carmelo Anthony had been like a broken record when it came to leading the New York Knicks in scoring.
But, while the star forward’s 20 points on Wednesday night matched Anthony’s second-lowest point total of the season, he didn’t need to do any more than that in a couple of different respects.
Anthony’s final points came on a three-pointer with 6:10 remaining, to give the Knicks (28-15) what was at the time, the biggest lead (94-80) for either team in New York’s eventual 113-97 win over the lowly Orlando Magic (14-31) at Madison Square Garden.
With that basket, Anthony, who was often double teamed, reached at least 20 points for the 35th time in his 36 games this season, and for a career-best 30th straight time, to barely break ex-Knick Richie Guerin’s record, set more than half a century ago, during the 1961-62 season.
It’s already been quite a week for the NBA’s second-leading scorer, who in New York’s previous game, led his team to a win with a game-winning, conventional three-point play in the final seconds, minutes after tying the Knicks’ single-game franchise record for three-pointers (nine).
On writing himself into the Knick history books, Anthony said, “Any records you have a chance to go get, or break or tie, that is the fun part. Tonight was my chance to break the record. It makes it fun out there when you know you are looking forward to something. Records are meant to be broken.”
Head coach Mike Woodson wasn’t even aware of what his star player had done until after the game.
“I didn’t know it was a streak till I walked in [to the post-game press conference],” said Woodson, who said of his star player, “He’s an MVP candidate no matter how you slice it.”
Making 8 of 17 shots from the field, Anthony was one of six Knicks to score in double figures, but for just the fourth time in games that Anthony has played this season, he wasn’t New York’s high scorer.
That honor belonged to center Tyson Chandler (21 points, seven rebounds) for the first time this year, as he was nearly perfect from the floor while forward Amar’e Stoudemire (14 points off the bench) didn’t miss at all.
Stoudemire made all seven of his field goal attempts while Chandler made 9 of 10 shots to help the Knicks shoot 57.2 percent (57 of 82) from the field — a New York season high for a second consecutive game — and pull away from a pesky Magic team which played the Knicks to a standstill through the first half, despite dropping a seventh straight game and losing for the 18 time in its past 20 contests.
Woodson was pleased with the way in which New York shared the ball, noting, “We had [a season-high] 30 assists tonight, so the ball was moving.”
Often, right into the hands of Chandler, who said, “I had a couple of rough games [recently] and wanted to get involved in the offense early. The flow was great. My teammates were looking for me.”
And, also for Stoudemire, who finished the game just six points shy of 14,000 for his career. The one-time rookie of the year and six-time all-star has made two-thirds (34 of 51) of his field goal attempts over his last six games, as he continues to work back to his star from after missing the first two months of the season following knee surgery.
He’s done so while being more than willing to do whatever Woodson has asked of him, even coming off the bench, ever since his first game of the season on New Year’s Day.
“It’s in my DNA,” said Stoudemire, who two seasons ago, had his own streak of 26 consecutive 20-point games with the Knicks. “I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to win. I’ve accomplished a lot in my career so far. The next thing to accomplish is to win a championship. Whatever that takes, whatever role that I need to step into, I’m totally open to it.”
Greatly appreciating Stoudemire’s team-first attitude from a former superstar relegated to a being a spark off of the bench for now, Anthony said, “For him to accept a role like that, a player of his caliber, everyone knows his resume, it is very professional of him. We support him. We are having fun and it seems like he is having fun as well.”
It wasn’t amusing for New York at the start however, thanks to a problem that has been plaguing the Knicks for several weeks – as they again came out with a lack of defensive intensity, communication and execution.
Orlando took advantage of that and jumped out to a 19-12 lead midway through the first quarter and maintained a same seven-point edge as guards J.J. Reddick (team-high 29 points) and Jameer Nelson (21 points) joined Stoudemire, Chandler and New York point guard Raymond Felton (15 points, nine assists, no turnovers) as two of five players who each made at least their initial four shots of the game.
Although the defensive-minded Woodson, since training camp, has preached to his squad the importance of playing sound defense, getting off to fast starts in games and protecting the MSG court, the Knicks once again struggled to slow an opposing offense at the outset.
“We still have a ways to go defensively,” said Woodson.
Redick finished the opening quarter with 14 points, making all six of his field goal attempts, and Nelson made his first four shots to score 12 points and offset the dozen first-period points scored by Felton.
After the Magic’s hot start, an Anthony layup capped a 7-0 run that tied the game, 26-26. Moments later, Anthony knocked down a three-pointer that knotted the game again, 31-31, heading into the second period.
The tie marked the first time this season in which the Knicks were tied at that point, after going 17-2 in games in which they led following the first quarter, and just 10-13 in ones in which they trailed after one period.
Neither team could pull away in the second quarter, with a 39-36 Orlando lead being the biggest margin before the teams stayed even, 51-51, at halftime.
Things continued that way almost five minutes into the third quarter, until Chandler scored on a tip-in and an alley oop dunk off of a feed from reserve guard J.R. Smith (11 points) before Stoudemire made a short hook shot during a 6-0 run that put New York up for good, 68-62.
The Knicks twice went ahead by as many as seven points in the period, each time, on a basket by backup point guard Pablo Prigioni (11 points in 15½ minutes), prior to settling for a 79-73 lead going into a fourth quarter that saw the Magic no longer able to keep pace.
New York nearly had a seventh player get to double figures in scoring when all eight of reserve forward Steve Novak’s points came over the 4:51 of the game to prevent any thought of Orlando getting back in the game.
Novak’s first points, on a three-pointer, were scored one Knick possession before a Chandler layup ended a 21-9 spurt that pushed New York’s advantage to a game-high 102-84 with 4:08 left, as the Magic would get no closer than 11 points thereafter.
By not allowing Orlando hang around late, the Knicks picked up a second straight win to start a five-game home stand (their second longest of the season), during which they play nothing but teams with inferior records, including four teams with losing records.
They’re hoping to use that time to get back to where they were before, when they started the season 18-5 before going just 8-10.
After a day off on Thursday, the home stretch will conclude quickly with three games (against Milwaukee, Sacramento and Detroit) in just four days before New York goes on the road to face two more losing teams (Washington and Minnesota).