|Will Carmelo Anthony (right) be able to keep the heat off himself and Jeremy Lin? (AP)|
In the visiting locker room Thursday night, after the Knicks had absorbed this haymaker from the Heat, Anthony saw Lin sitting quietly at his locker with his head down. A 1-for-11 shooting night, eight turnovers and a 14-point loss will do that to you.
"Cheer up, man," Anthony told his point guard after the Heat exhibited no mercy in a 102-88 victory on the last night before the All-Star break. "You're gonna have nights like this. We all have nights like this."
Spoken like a man who knows how it works, a man who has now been vilified by the very same bright lights that lured him to New York in the first place.
Everything the Knicks do now is about Jeremy Lin, who was the focal point of Miami's defensive game plan the way he's been the object of the city's tabloid back pages -- not to mention the front pages. But much like this game we all just watched, this team remains very much about someone else. And you began to see that Thursday night, as the Knicks arrived at the All-Star break with a 17-18 record and aspirations of doing more. Before long, it will become crystal clear.
When the novelty begins to wear off and Lin faces more swarming defenses -- though none as diabolical as Miami's -- and when the Knicks reach the inevitable crossroads of being a dangerous playoff team or just another on a long list of those that can't hang with the Heat and the Bulls, it will be about the guy who had the ball in his hands at every crucial juncture of this game. It will be about the guy LeBron James was guarding, jawing with and battling for every inch of space on the court: Carmelo Anthony.
For three weeks, it has been Jeremy's world and the rest of us have just been paying rent. But it always comes back to the stars in the NBA. It always comes back to the guys who go by one name.
LeBron. D-Wade. Dirk. Kobe. D-Rose. And yes, Melo.
"We're not going away," Anthony said of facing LeBron and the Heat, "and they're not going away."
|More on Knicks-Heat|
|More NBA coverage|
Neither are the bright lights that lured Anthony to New York like a temptress, only to morph into arrows aimed straight at him.
At least, apparently, that's the way Anthony sees it. After a solid week of hearing and reading that his offensive game -- selfish, ball-stopping, fill in the pejorative blank -- wouldn't fit the style that Lin was so successfully orchestrating while Melo was out with a groin injury, Anthony has smiled and said all the right things publicly. Pictures, of course, are worth 1,000 words, and the picture that Anthony is now using as his Twitter avatar is awfully telling.
It's the famous 1968 Esquire Magazine cover depicting Muhammad Ali being impaled by six arrows to signify his persecution after refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army due to his religious beliefs. Ali was stripped of his passport and heavyweight title belt and called a draft dodger. Bad as it was, it wasn't quite the fate that befell the inspiration for the image: St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, who was shot full of arrows, survived, restored sight to a blind girl and then was clubbed to death for speaking out against the persecution of Christians. Or, so the story goes.
"That's one of my famous pictures; my favorite," Anthony said in a quiet moment on his way out of the locker room. "I've got that one blown up like 20 feet in my house. I've had it for about six years now."
And clearly, if the intent behind the image is put in the proper context, Anthony is feeling a little persecuted.
"No," Anthony said with a smile. "I have my feelings. I'm human, that's all."
The guy he'd just spent all night guarding -- and who'd been guarding him -- has taken some arrows, as well. But James had no words of wisdom for his friend and fellow star about what to do now.
"I accept it, though," Melo said. "I embrace it. Can't run away from it."
And he knew about this time a year ago when he was embracing a trade to New York and all that came with it that he'd have no choice.
"That's why it doesn't affect me," he said.
That brings us back to the game -- to the Knicks -- and what happens next.
The Heat deployed the same game plan against Lin that other teams have -- blitz and trap him on every pick-and-roll, crowd his vision and make him cough up the ball, which he did, producing as many turnovers as points. They just did it better than anyone else because they have two of the most frightening defenders in the world who turn their defense into furiously fast offense at the other end. As perfect as the storm was that spawned Lin's amazing run of success, this was an equally stormy deterrent.
With Lin neutralized, and with Amar'e Stoudemire once again rendered ordinary -- 13 points, only two in the second half -- the Knicks had only one place to turn. And they turned to their star, Anthony, upon whose shoulders their fortunes ultimately will rest.
"This is a team, Miami, who's been together all last year and they went through the same thing that we're kind of going through right now," Anthony said. "But we'll get there. I believe we'll get there, and I've been saying that since day one."
Anthony was all the Knicks had going Thursday night, and in his third game back, he didn't have it. He had 19 points, needed 20 shots to get them, and didn't have his legs on the second night of a back-to-back -- a night when he used whatever energy he had guarding James on the other end.
With no explanation for Stoudemire's precipitous slide -- "That's a good question," was all Amar'e offered when asked why he was such a non-factor in the second half -- and with Lin now the focal point of every scouting report, Anthony was right about something else. There will be a lot of nights like this for the Knicks, nights when they'll need Anthony to carry the load and embrace all the things that he says he's embracing.
This wasn't the night.
"I'm getting there," Anthony said.
He was talking about getting his legs back and adjusting to his new point guard and all the rest. But whether he realizes it or not, he's already arrived at the crossroads of his life as a Knick. Right in the middle of the spotlight, the arrows aimed at him. It’s right where he signed up to be, whether he likes it or not.