SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson insist there is no structural damage in the forward's left knee.

But whatever is wrong, it was enough to keep him out of the Knicks' game against the Kings Friday night, enough that he does not know when he will return and enough that he said of playing Tuesday: "I haven't figured that out. It's getting better. Today felt much better than yesterday. Yesterday I was barely able to bend my knee. Today I am walking much better."

That was a much more ominous assessment than the last time Anthony spoke to reporters, after the Christmas Day loss to the Lakers, when he thought he would play the next night in Phoenix. He did not, so Friday made two missed games in a row. Woodson said Anthony will be evaluated further after the team returns to New York.

"He strained it a little bit and we're being cautious about it," the coach said after the morning shootaround. "If he could play, he would play . . . He is moving around a lot better than the first day it happened."

Anthony was hurt when Marcus Camby fell into his lower left leg. The Knicks called it a hyperextension. Anthony finished the game, although he conceded Friday he shouldn't have. "But it was Christmas," he said.

His initial optimism was dashed when he got on the plane to Phoenix and the knee swelled. "I couldn't even bend my knee or extend my leg," he said. "It was hard for me to walk."

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Anthony said no tests were done other than a manual examination. "There was just a lot of inflammation, so they wanted to give it 48 hours to get some of the inflammation out of it," he said.

The injury was compounded by the loss of guard Raymond Felton for at least a month because of a broken right pinkie and the ongoing absences of Amar'e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Iman Shumpert.

Does Woodson sometimes wonder what it would be like to have his entire roster intact?

"I've been thinking about that from Day One, trying to gauge our team and see where we are as a team," he said. "But until that happens, I feel good about what we've assembled in terms of the makeup of our team."

Stoudemire aims to make his season debut Tuesday, but Woodson said how much he is used will be determined after practices Sunday and Monday.

"He'll be at full go,'' he said. "I'm going to put him through a whole practice. We'll be banging some with him, too, just to see where he is and then hopefully there won't be any setbacks and he'll be ready to go on New Year's Day . . . He's not going to come back and play 30 minutes a game; that's impossible.''

But Stoudemire told MSG Network Friday night that he must be cleared by a doctor in New York before returning to practice.

Woodson used the same makeshift starting lineup against the Kings that he deployed Wednesday: Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas, Tyson Chandler, James White and Jason Kidd. No one expects the Knicks to maintain their early momentum with a lineup such as that. But Anthony does not want to rush back.

"I am hoping the first [of January], but I want to take it day-by-day," he said. "In the NBA, when you miss one game, it feels like it's been a week. The injury occurred Tuesday and it's only been a couple of days."

Anthony did some non-running fitness work Friday and planned to take Saturday off and do more fitness work Sunday.He missed two games each earlier this season with finger and ankle injuries but so far has avoided more serious damage. "It's not really frustrating," he said. "It's a matter of coming back where you left off."