Is the nightly toll of being the Knicks' only consistent scoring option finally affecting Carmelo Anthony physically?
After taking several hits to his shooting hand in the loss to Golden State on Friday night, Anthony said he didn't know the extent of the injury. It wasn't what any Knicks fan wanted to hear. All Anthony knew at that point was how his right hand felt, which was "very sore."
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On Saturday, however, the Knicks breathed easier, calling it a bruise and saying he is expected to play Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
That represented the best possible news for the team and Anthony, who is averaging 28.2 points, 3.0 assists and a career-high 8.7 rebounds per game. He is averaging 36.2 points in his last six games, five of which were losses.
On any given night, Anthony is likely to be responsible for close to a third of the Knicks' points and a quarter of their rebounds and assists.
Anthony, who will turn 30 in May, is averaging 39.0 minutes per game, the most of his 11-year career.
Yet as the Knicks' losses pile up -- they've dropped five straight and 11 of 13 -- and their chances of making the playoffs look slimmer every day, when is it time to consider dialing back his minutes with an eye on his future value to them?
With Anthony planning to opt out of his contract this summer, perhaps the last thing the Knicks need is a nightly reminder of how much everything falls on his shoulders.
"It's definitely frustrating, the games, how we losing the games," Anthony said after the loss to Golden State. "I keep saying we've got to figure it out, figure it out, but it's time now where we should have it down pat. We shouldn't be in this position."
Knicks coach Mike Woodson chuckled when asked after Friday's 126-103 loss if he considered sitting Anthony more in the game. Now's not the time for that, he said.
"It's hard to back off minutes for Carmelo," Woodson said. "I wish I could. We've kind of been singing that tune all season. I mean, Melo is a big piece to what we do."
The problem, Woodson said, is essentially that the Knicks have such a small margin of error without Anthony on the floor. They can't afford to leave him on the bench for too long when they're trailing, which has been the case a lot lately.
"We're trying to stay in games and win games, so it's tough to sit him," Woodson said. "If I could find some downtime to sit him, I would do that. But we got to get some leads and hold on to some leads for that to happen for him.
"Right now we're just in this stretch where we got to win games."
And Anthony is doing everything he can, but it's still not enough.
The culprit Friday night was the Knicks' transition defense; Woodson cited a lack of effort and communication among players that led to far too many easy baskets for the Warriors.
For that to change, every player needs to buy in, and right now that's not happening.
"We ain't going to win games like that," J.R. Smith said. "Guys getting open shots, walking through the lane, running around, slapping high five, laughing, joking. We're supposed to be a team trying to make the playoffs. We ain't going to win like that."
Added Anthony, "There's nobody we're going to bring in here now. This is the team. This is what we have. We've got to figure it out on our own."
With Al Iannazzone