The Knicks needed an immediate remedy following their ill-fated West Coast trip, and thankfully for them, the Magic came to town to aid the cause as New York earned a 106-94 wire-to-wire win Wednesday night.
Head coach Mike Woodson was forced to go small, as he was missing four of his top big men — Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace. But he thankfully had Carmelo Anthony at his disposal. Anthony, who missed almost the entire road trip, finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 on 3-pointers) in his first full game back since March 11 against the Warriors.
Woodson simply shrugged his shoulders when asked to recap Anthony’s performance, as if saying that his star didn’t even look like a guy battling a knee injury for an extended period of time.
“He was big time tonight. It was Melo being Melo. From the time I took over, he’s been a true pro and that’s all you can ask for,” said Woodson, who divulged the plan was to not overexert his star. “I thought he was great. He only played 32 minutes, and I didn’t want to burn him out and play him 37-38 minutes. Those extra five minutes of rest does a guy good.”
The former MVP candidate didn’t even look rusty, as he was in a great rhythm from the opening tip. Anthony had 14 points, including 2-of-3 in 3-pointers, and a team-high four rebounds in the first half, to set the tone, as he carried a Knicks offense that was in need of a boost.
“It felt good for the most part,” Anthony said of his knee. “I wanted to see if I could do everything, and I did. I was pain free. Best I’ve felt since right before All-Star break. … It was a big relief for me, especially mentally, [because] I was able to do some of the things that I’m usually able to do.”
The All-Star forward wasn’t alone, however, as he was aided by J.R. Smith, who had arguably his most efficient game of the season. Smith tallied a team-high 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting and played under control for most of the game. Smith also played exceptional defense in the post, although vastly overmatched in size, and added seven rebounds and a huge blocked shot in the final moments.
Kenyon Martin got the start at center, sans Chandler, and turned in an admirable performance of 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and three rebounds.
The post play wasn’t nearly as lethal to the Magic as the Knicks’ long-range shooting. New York knocked down 15-of-34 in 3-pointers (44.1 percent). Conversely, the Magic shot just 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) from behind the arc, and never really threatened.
Woodson said he made it a point of emphasis in the pregame preparations to keep the Magic in check, especially on 3-pointers.
“We held them down tonight. Not bad. Anytime we can hold a team under 95 points you put yourself in position to win a lot of games,” Woodson said. “The supporting cast was great. We built that big lead, [because] everyone chipped in and did what they had to do. Orlando wasn’t overly big, so I elected to keep [Marcus] Camby on the sidelines. … If he doesn’t need to play, he doesn’t need to. But when needed, he can definitely give us what we need.”
As the Knicks head down the home stretch of the season, they’ll need all the healthy and rested bodies they can get. Tonight’s win was important for the Knicks in more than just getting back a healthy Anthony, since they maintained their one-game lead over the Nets, who also won tonight in Dallas.
» Iman Shumpert sat out the second half with a tweaked left knee. Woodson didn’t think it was too serious, and added his shooting guard was ready to play again if needed: “Iman could’ve played again, but I decided to sit him down to be cautious until he gets looked at by the doctors. But I think he’ll be all right.”
Shumpert used the alarming word “pop” when recalling the initial feeling in his recovering knee, but said he doesn’t think it’ll be a hindrance going forward: “I felt it popped. … It scared me, because the last time that happened I missed eight months.”
The second-year pro said the trainers initially diagnosed that it’s likely scar tissue, and shouldn’t be a major concern. He’ll receive more tests and treatment Thursday.
» Woodson acknowledged the surging Nets, but added his main concern is his own team and how well they respond down the stretch: “We have to be consistent with winning at home, and .500 or better on the road, to win the division. We can’t beg for help. No looking over our shoulders or wanting and needing help for someone to lose.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.