New York Knicks forward Carmello Anthony (7) shoots over Memphis...

New York Knicks forward Carmello Anthony (7) shoots over Memphis Grizzlies forward Shane Battier (31) in the second half of an NBA basketball game. (March 9, 2011) Credit: AP

MEMPHIS -- Amar'e Stoudemire had to answer it this way, because that's what his admirable reflex to respect those whom he once called teammates compells him to do.

After Carmelo Anthony's game-winning jumper with five-tenths of a second left to pick-pocket a win that the Grizzlies had almost swiped, I felt compelled to ask Stoudemire if he felt the team could have won this game before the trade.

"We won some tough games before the trade," he said. "We beat some really good teams. We respect the guys that were traded. I definitely think we could have won this game."

Could have, but probably wouldn't have. That group would have just Stoudemire to rely on and the Grizzlies, like anyone else, would have surrounded him with defenders. We saw this many times late in games before the trade, most notably in the loss at Oklahoma City, when Raymond Felton took the bulk of the shots down the stretch while Stoudemire was bottled up.

But you do have to acknowledge that these Knicks, especially without Chauncey Billups in the lineup, were very much like those Knicks, with poor execution down the stretch. Remember it was only six days ago when Anthony failed on the final possession against the Cavaliers when he was called for an offensive charge in the brutal loss at the Garden last Friday.

In that game, Anthony said he drove to the basket because he didn't want to settle for a jumper. But against the Grizzlies, with his jumper absolutely soaking wet for most of the night, Anthony had it in his mind to, if I may borrow from the Stoudemire commercial, take the J-Train straight to the win.

"It was just one of those shots that you knew was going to go in," Anthony said. "I had plenty of shots the whole game like that that didn't go in, but that particular one I knew was going in."

This was going to be Anthony's game to win or lose. He missed the short jumper with 22 seconds to go and then fouled Zach Randolph for the game-tying three-point play. The ball got to his hands and Anthony faced up on Tony Allen and the strategy was for Stoudemire to come over for a pick-and-roll play. But as Amar'e arrived, Carmelo pumped the ball as if to wave him off.

"I didn't wave him off, don't put that in the paper," Anthony said. "I told him to take his time coming over there." He then let out a chuckle, realizing the semantics.

Though the two have started to develop chemistry as a pick-and-roll duo, this wasn't the time, nor the location, for it. Rather than create a crowd in the corner, Anthony made the right call to direct Stoudemire through to the low block, where Randolph followed to keep it a one-on-one situation. It allowed Anthony to pump fake, take a dribble and pull up on Allen for the winning shot.

"The spacing and the match-up determined it and Melo had the open shot," Stoudemire said.

Amar'e said he wasn't thinking about the shot going in. "I was thinking offensive rebound," he said. "That's the way you have to think in case it doesn't go off. I got inside position just in case it didn't come off."

True to his nature, just like we saw in the loss to Cleveland, D'Antoni didn't call a timeout for the final possession after Randolph's game-tying free throw. He prefers to leave the game in the hands of his players and not let the opponent get the opportunity to set up a defense or substitute defenders into the game.

"I didn't want to call a timeout so they could talk about it," D'Antoni said. "We have two of the best finishers in the game and both of them are over there, so it's a handful for anybody."

* * *

* - As you'll see in my game story, Carmelo had a loud exchange with the Grizzlies bench on his game-winning play. "They was just yelling, 'That --- is off! It's off! It's off!'," he said. So what did Melo say back to the Grizzlies bench after it went in?

"I DO this!" he replied with a laugh.

* - Of the Knicks' playoff prospects, Amar'e said, "It's going to be tough if we keep defending the way we are. That's the key, if we keep doing that, we'll be in good shape." He was right the first time, it is going to be tough if they can't get stops down the stretch in close games. The Grizzles scored 108 points and were their own worst enemy with two bad turnovers on consecutive possessions in the final 1:02 when Mike Conley lost the ball out of bounds and then Darrell Arthur threw the ball away. Forced errors credited to tough defense? You could make an argument.

But despite giving up 108 points, the Knicks didn't allow a single 30-point quarter. D'Antoni has surrendered a great deal to a half-court system, which would keep possessions down. But it was actually the Grizzlies who pushed the pace and that's what created a high-possession game, which they needed to generate their offense. The Knicks actually defended well in halfcourt sets, but by giving up 33 points at the foul line, plus 52 points in the paint and 33 fast break points, Memphis not only stayed in the game, they came up with a win.

* - So what do we make of the fact that the Knicks have won four of the five games that Billups has missed? Toney Douglas (18 points, 10 assists vs. Memphis) has been strong in Billups' absence, averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 assists per game with just 11 turnovers. He's shooting a red hot 59.2 percent from the field in that span and 51.7 percent from three-point range (15 for 29). Douglas knows he has to earn D'Antoni's trust on a nightly basis and endure an earful from his anxious coach, who yanked him from the game down the stretch against the Cavs last Friday. "It's a good thing he gets on me," Douglas said. "It means he expects a lot out of me. I adjust real well to it. I just say, 'OK Coach, I got it'."

Billups is most likely to return for Sunday's game against the Pacers, which would move Douglas back to a reserve role, but with a great deal of confidence he didn't have before. The second-year guard said he owed a lot of his success to Billups' mentoring.

"I'm glad he's here," Douglas said. "I hate to see him hurt . . . I'm just going to keep learning from him."

* - The Knicks perimeter shooting was so hot, they hardly went to the rack all game. as a result, they only attempted four free throws the entire game, compared to 35 by the Grizzlies. The four FTAs tied a franchise record low.

* - Bill Walker returned after missing two games with a sore knee but he might get to rest that knee for a while with the way Roger Mason Jr. is playing. Mason had 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting (2 for 4 from downtown) in 20:38 off the bench against the Grizzlies. In three games since he moved into D'Antoni's rotation, Mason is shooting 9 for 18 from the field, 5 for 11 from downtown, and has 24 points.

* - Landry Fields had a near-perfect game with 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field, including 2 of 3 from downtown. The rookie guard, who also had six rebounds and six assists, has scored in double figures in four of the last five games.

* - Credit most of the Knicks' 17 turnovers to a very aggressive, often gambling defense by the Grizzlies, who recorded 13 steals and converted every one into a score. Memphis came into the game leading the NBA with 9.25 steals per game and they do it mostly by shooting the gap and getting into passing lanes. Stoudemire fell prey to their aggressive style the most, with six turnovers.

But despite the trouble Memphis caused on defense, the Knicks ball movement was stellar for most of the game, as they racked up an astounding 31 assists on 47 field goals.

* - Jared Jeffries made his first field goal, a mid-range jumper of all things, since joining the team five games ago. Jeffries once again had modest stats (2 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) but also drew two charges and was a big part of the zone defense the Knicks employed in the second half. Foul trouble and fatigue continue to be two factors that keep his minutes down.

* - We know Kevin Love is the odds-on favorite and LaMarcus Aldridge is another viable candidate, but Tony Allen has to at least be in the conversation for Most Improved Player. What player has meant more to his team's success this season? OK, Aldridge fits that criteria just as well, but you have to be impressed with Allen. He has his athleticism back after that devastating knee injury a few years back in Boston and his defense fits the aggressive mentality that Lionel Hollins has instilled in this scrappy team. Speaking of Hollins, if the Grizzlies make the playoffs, how is he not among the candidates for Coach of the Year? We've made visits to FedEx Forum for five years now and the place has never been this alive this late in the season. They're going to give some top seed a tough go in the first round.

And for those on the Marc Gasol bandwagon, he was hardly a factor in this game. Darrell Arthur was far more effective in the game and showed an ability to knock down mid-range shots and also play physical defense on Stoudemire. A note to the Gasolians: let it go. Knicks won't have cap space this summer and the Grizzlies aren't going to trade him.

* - The Knicks head to Dallas to complete a tough road back-to-back, but they won't be the only tired team. The Mavericks lost in New Orleans on Wednesday night, so it'll be a back-to-back for them as well.

* - The 34 wins represents the highest win total for the Knicks since the 2003-04 produced a 39-43 finish. That season also was the last time the Knicks earned a playoff berth. The win, coupled with the Bobcats loss to Chicago, moved the Knicks' magic number to 10, for those who feel like getting an early start on the countdown.

* - By the way, for Lent I decided to give up cursing. Y'all better ------- hold me to it.