Carmelo Anthony's return thickens this week's plot.

Monday, February 20th -- VS New Jersey

Wednesday, February 22nd -- VS Atlanta

Thursday, February 23rd -- @ Miami

Glancing at the Knicks' shiny new record of 16-16 after yesterday's preposterous and perhaps most impressive Lin-era victory against the heavyweight champions of the world, two things become clear. The Knicks have three games left until the all-star break; also, the Knicks would like to have a record above .500 heading into the break. In order to accomplish this task, the Bockers will have a gimme-game in the Garden against the Nets, who somehow just beat Chicago, followed by two not-so-gimmes: Atlanta in the Garden followed by Mario Chalmers and the Heat down in Miami. No game of the three can be considered an automatic win (Nets) or automatic loss (Heat), particularly considering the circumstances and outcomes of the Knicks previous two contests, but with the team's leading scorer and most highly used player, Carmelo Anthony, set to return this week, it sure would be nice to win somewhere between 66 and 100% of these last three pre-break tilts, huh?

Let's check out some storylines in greater detail and try to assess this week's platter.

Tonight's game against the Nets could tell us more about the Knicks than any other game this season.

First of all, Carmelo Anthony's return has been the "1h" to Jeremy Lin's "1a,b,c,d,e,f,g" in the eye of sports media coverage since virtually the beginning of the month. He's never made a successful bounce pass in his life, how is he going to be able to play with Oscar "Magic" Stockt-Lin? He needs the ball in his hands to operate, how will he find any measure of success with someone else who requires the same thing? Furthermore, how does he hold a basketball in his hands and drive a car at the same time? Actually, shit, how does he even clap his hands? Carmelo Anthony's relative success in Denver playing with Chauncey Billups and his seamless inclusion in the 2008 Olympic Team, one known for its stellar passing and team play, represent one possibility. The other is represented by his inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs save for 2008-09, as well as his isolation offensive preferences, which has been a major reason he has hovered around a 1:1 assist/turnover ratio his entire career. The discrepancy between perceived individual talent and historical team success may be widest for LeBron James, but Carmelo Anthony is certainly in the running for second place. It is this discrepancy that has caused such an incredible rift between those who think Anthony will be an offensive automaton and all-around talent yin to Bill Walker's non-talent yang, and those who think his attempted reintegration is akin to featuring Josh Groban on a Limp Bizkit song. Separately they're both all-world talents, but combined the mojo may not be right. Again, that's according to the naysayers. I'm off track.

On this subject I'll offer a word of advice similar to last week's to Knicks fans: Do not start assessing this team's chemistry until after the All-Star break. JR Smith's mercenary services and Carmelo Anthony's reintroduction are linked in that they will take longer than one or two games. It does not make sense for Mike D'Antoni to push Baron Davis to play prior to the break, as the league-wide respite provides a useful grace period for his convalescence, so assessing this roster as playoff-ready after three wins, or conversely declaring the formula inherently broken after three losses would be equally futile, premature and, in New York, highly likely. As with Stoudemire's comeback exactly a week ago, this one should be taken with a grain of salt until a good chunk of spin has been spun, and that will not happen until after Jeremy Lin's private and social lives have been dissected with a camera and a microphone during the all-star break.

Carmelo Anthony is not the only thing thickening this week's plot, though. For example:

  • Tyson Chandler got pretty banged up yesterday battling against his Dallas buddies. His wrists were L-, O-, and X-rayed, all of which came up negative, but I suppose this is something to monitor. Chandler has, all things considered, been the most valuable member of the Knicks so far this season, and although my faith in him to play through pain and injuries is strong enough, perhaps some lingering pain could cause reticence in regard to basket-area activity. Against penetrating guards like Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks and, later this week, Jeff Teague and Dwyane Wade, the Knicks could use as much help protecting the paint as they can get.
  • Look for Iman Shumpert's three point attempts to decline. Shumpert is shooting 6-27 from beyond the arc this month, but it may have been by design. Even after he regresses, Jeremy Lin is turning out to be a better shooter than he was originally reported to be. However, after Steve Novak and Lin, no one has been able to stretch the floor with any (I repeat: any) effectiveness in the last several weeks. Landry Fields has not hit more than one triple in a game since three Thursdays ago, Bill Walker is shooting a sizzling 10-40 from three in February, and Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby seem to have killed each other prior to the season. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised if either Mike D'Antoni has been telling Shumpert to keep shooting in a desperate attempt to spread the floor (almost certainly not the case), or if Shumpert has been taking so many threes because no one else seems to be hitting any and that's just the way he thinks (probably the case). Either way, as a by-product of Anthony's return and JR Smith's rotation integration I would bet Shumpert's attempts are about to trend downward (not just because he may receive fewer minutes).
  • I can't think of an instance of an opposing point guard having more reasons to torch Jeremy Lin than Deron Williams has for tonight. Lin got the better of Williams in their last meeting, the faithful game during which Lin was essentially "outed" as a good basketball player, Deron Williams is the best offensive player on a team sorely lacking scoring options, even with Brook Lopez, and Lin just played all but two minutes yesterday against a defense who trapped him for all 46 minutes he was on the court. On the other hand, the Nets are a terrible team, they'll be in Madison Square Garden for presumably the final time as a New Jersey basketball organization rather than a New York one, and they'll be on the third game of a back-to-back-to-back. I think this creates an interesting dynamic, and I'm excited to see how Williams approaches the game. In general, I think it will be interesting to see if Brook Lopez's return and their win over Chicago could energize the Nets.
  • Oh yeah, I guess the Knicks do play the Heat this week. This is the last game the Knicks will play before all-star weekend, which will be held only about a couple hundred miles away, and it is a nationally televised game. So, in addition to seeing an uptick in pomp as well as celebrity attendance, this is a game that could mean further monopolization of the airwaves for the Knicks. Regardless of the outcomes of the New Jersey and Atlanta games, a victory in Miami followed by a week off could produce a near-illegal amount of Knicks attention.
  • Steve Novak and J.R. Smith will probably get regular burn this week, and without a sense of familiarity, three-pointers could play a heavier-than-usual role in the Knicks' game plan, if that's even possible.
  • The Hawks will complete a semi-brutal five game road trip in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (four of the five games: @LAL, @POR, @CHI, @NYK). This is probably the most important game of the week for several reasons. First of all, the Hawks will probably fall somewhere in the middle of Eastern Conference playoff race when it's all said and done, so any game against them represents not only the opportunity to pick up a game, it is also a good chance to deal a loss to a team much more likely to chicken-dance with the Knicks for a playoff spot than either New Jersey or Miami.
  • Last night, Ersan Ilyasova put up 29 and 25, including 13 offensive rebounds against the Nets, and it's probable he would have had more if he didn't foul out. Amar'e Stoudemire, please pick up the blue courtesy phone.
That about covers the week. It looks like the Knicks face an uphill climb starting tonight, or at least that's what the oppositions' records show. Let's hope Carmelo Anthony can make a return, and a glorious one at that.

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