The Knicks hobbled back into the Garden Wednesday night, looking to forget their disastrous road trip, looking somehow to forget a painful 10-day stretch filled with heating pads, crutches and losses.
Nearly one third of the Knicks' 15-man roster was unable to play against the Orlando Magic because of injuries. But in the end that didn't matter. Carmelo Anthony was back on the court and looking very healthy.
Appearing in his first game since limping off the court in Denver a week ago, Anthony scored a very healthy 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Knicks to a 106-94 win over the Magic. It didn't really matter to Knicks fans that the Magic (18-51) is one of the worst teams in the league. What mattered is that Anthony left the court with a big smile and feeling well.
"I feel healthy," Anthony declared in the locker room after the game.
He hasn't been able to say that for a while. Anthony had missed three straight games and six of the Knicks' previous eight because of fluid buildup behind his right knee. During that stretch, the Knicks were 3-3 without Anthony and lost the two games in which he played but clearly was struggling with pain. At one point during the West Coast trip, the knee became such a problem that the team sent him back to New York to have it drained.
Given all that drama, it was a pretty sweet sight for Mike Woodson when Anthony opened the game by rushing down the court, elevating and knocking down a quick three. Woodson said earlier in the day that he expected Anthony to be a little rusty.
"Big-time relief," said Woodson of his reaction to that shot. "It let me know that Melo is being Melo. I can't say enough. I don't think anyone can say enough."
J.R. Smith was the Knicks' high scorer with 22 points and he added seven rebounds. Kenyon Martin and Steve Novak added 11 points each. Former Hills West star Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson led Orlando with 14 points each.
Anthony is the league's No. 2 scorer, and with him back on the court, the Knicks looked whole again, even if they weren't.
The team roster looks like a hospital chart. Big men Tyson Chandler (neck strain), Amar'e Stoudemire (right knee debridement), Rasheed Wallace (fractured left foot) and Kurt Thomas (right foot stress reaction) are all unable to play. The Knicks are holding out hope that they will return for the playoffs.
The Knicks got an additional injury scare in the second quarter when Iman Shumpert strained his knee and left for the locker room. He did not play in the second half, though the Knicks said he was available.
Anthony's performance was a welcome relief for Woodson, who took some heat for letting him play against Denver. The struggling Magic was a team that the Knicks badly needed to beat to help get their confidence back as they head into a back-to-back set against Toronto Friday and Saturday.
Said Woodson: "Melo has been solid all the way through this. From the time I took over to this point, he's been a true pro and he's trying to do all the right things to help us win basketball games and that's all you can ask for."