It has been nearly two years since the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony from Denver to the Knicks.
In that stretch, the two teams have had nearly identical records, with Denver having won a handful more games heading into Sunday night's game at Madison Square Garden. Yet as any NBA observer can tell you, recent history does not seem to be trending the Nuggets' way.
While the Nuggets (10-11) are hovering around the middle of the Western Conference, the Knicks (15-5) are enjoying their best start since 1993-94, and Anthony has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate.
This disparity was clearly on display at the Garden as Anthony, who had missed two games with a lacerated middle finger on his left hand, scored 34 points to lead the Knicks to a 112-106 win over his former team.
"He earned his paycheck,'' Steve Novak said.
The Knicks are 8-0 at home, making them the only team in the league that is undefeated in its own arena.
"I don't have no hard feeling toward Denver," Anthony said. "It was just a matter of me not wanting to lose on our home court. There came a point in time that I felt I had to step up."
Denver coach George Karl said before the game that he had noticed a big difference between this Knicks team and the Knicks teams of the recent past. "They're a team when they get down in the fourth quarter in close games, they are playing with a mad-dog personality," he said, adding "they are a team that just doesn't want to lose."
That Knicks showed that early in the fourth quarter when what had been a close game threatened to get away from them. Down 88-80, the Knicks relied on the timely three-point shooting and tenacious defense that have been the hallmarks of their team all season. In a 4:12 stretch, the Knicks held Denver without a field goal while going on a 17-2 run ignited by Novak's back-to-back three-pointers.
Anthony's 34 points (10-for-24 shooting) led all scorers. He was 11-for-16 from the free-throw line (10-for-14 in the first half).
Tyson Chandler added 15 points (7-for-8 from the field) and 12 rebounds. Jason Kidd scored 17 points and J.R. Smith had 15.
The Knicks didn't announce whether Anthony was going to play until a half-hour before game time. He had missed the last two, and without him, the Knicks had played a perplexing pair of games.
First, they beat the Heat in Miami in a game that was as memorable as any regular-season win in recent Knicks history. They followed that, however, with a clunker in Chicago on Saturday night. So they headed into Sunday night hoping to get back on track and protect their perfect home record.
If Anthony's finger was bothering him, he managed to hide it. Said Chandler, "He's such a threat offensively. That's one of the things we were missing against Chicago. We just couldn't get some shots. We really missed him, and getting him back is a big positive."
Knicks coach Mike Woodson had been very coy about whether Anthony would be available, saying "I'd rather play with him."
That was clear.