PHILADELPHIA — Carmelo Anthony looked fresh despite playing a season-high 47 minutes Friday night, and he quickly dismissed the thought that he might not be able to play in his next game.
Anthony will not sit out Saturday night to rest. It’s his long-anticipated return to Madison Square Garden, the place he called home for 6 ½ seasons, to face the Knicks for the first time since he was traded to the Thunder in September.
Anthony said it will be “emotional” and hopes to receive “appreciation” from the fans.
“I’m ready for [Saturday],” Anthony said after the Thunder’s 119-117 triple-overtime victory over the 76ers. “It’ll be fun. These types of games should always be fun.
“Walking in there, it will be a little emotional just from the standpoint that’s home. Being back in there, and running out of the other side of the tunnel, seeing people that I became close with, seeing my family who I can’t see much right now because I’m in Oklahoma City. My son, my wife, seeing them, having them there is very important. I think it will be a fun game. I think it will be a fun night as far as being excited being on the court.”
Anthony forced a trade to the Knicks in 2011 and hoped to spend the rest of his career in New York. But former Knicks president Phil Jackson essentially pushed him out last season.
Anthony ultimately waived his no-trade clause and was sent to the Thunder in September for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the Bulls’ second-round pick. But he hopes the fans will remember how he carried himself when Jackson publicly criticized him through the media and on Twitter.
“I think it will be an appreciation,” Anthony said. “It’s not like I was there a season or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there — almost seven years. It was great times, bad times. Regardless, I stuck with it. I always remained professional. I came and did my job whether they liked it or not. Hopefully they recognize that.’’
Anthony could have been warming up Friday night for the big event, but he also could be a little tired. He shot 11-for-17 and scored 24 points. It was only the second time in the last 10 games that he reached the 20-point mark and his highest-scoring game since Nov. 9, when he had 28 against his first team, the Nuggets.
His production clearly has dropped off this season, so he couldn’t say he’ll have a big night against the Knicks, but you know he wants to perform well in a very familiar environment.
“Coming to the Garden is always a show,” Anthony said. “Of course I want to win. I want to win for many reasons. I want to win because I’m on the opposite team now. I want to win because we have a chance to sweep this road trip. And then I just want to win.
“It’ll be fun to win back in the Garden now that I’m on another team and knowing the things we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to create and where we’re trying to go as a team.”
Neither Anthony nor the Thunder is off to a good start. Surprisingly, the Knicks (15-13) have a better record than Oklahoma City (14-14).
It could be age — Anthony is 33 — or not being the focal point of the offense for the first time, but he has endured the roughest stretch of his career.
Anthony is averaging 18.0 points and is shooting 40.1 percent from the field, both career lows. In December, he’s averaging 13.9 points and shooting 38.7 percent. He averaged 24.7 points and shot 44.3 percent in his 6½ seasons with the Knicks.
Despite Anthony’s hot shooting, he was barely involved in the second half and not at all in the fourth quarter. He took only four shots in the final 32 minutes of the game as Russell Westbrook, who shot 10-for-33, dominated the ball.
He also got heated late in the fourth quarter. Anthony and Joel Embiid jawed with each other after he fouled the Philadelphia center.
Anthony said he’s “happy” and “excited” about how Kristaps Porzingis has blossomed as his successor as the Knicks’ franchise player. He bristled a little when he was asked if he is surprised by the Knicks’ success.
“Look, we all got to move on, man,” Anthony said. “We all got to move on. Those guys from what I’m hearing, the little bit that I’ve seen, are playing well. They found their team for right now. The players they have on the team are fitting in very well. They’re having fun, they’re enjoying the game. I’m pretty sure they moved on from me.
“I’m focused on Oklahoma City right now. But that will always be a part of me. New York will always be a part of me.”