DENVER — Ready for the first “must-win” game of the Knicks’ season?
Carmelo Anthony is. That’s what the Knicks star called Saturday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets.
Anthony, who missed Thursday night’s loss at Golden State with a sore right shoulder, pronounced himself fit to return against his old team. He also wants the Knicks to return from their western swing with a 3-2 record after they won the first two and lost the next two.
“This is a big game for us,” Anthony said after a late-afternoon practice at the Pepsi Center. “This is a big game. Must-win. I know it’s early, but this is a must-win kind of mentality for us. We started off the road trip pretty good and had an opportunity to win in Phoenix. That was one that we let slip away. [Golden State] is what it is. But [Saturday] we have an opportunity to turn this into a good trip for us.”
Coach Jeff Hornacek said he’d like a 3-2 trip, but he’s more interested in stopping the Knicks’ losing streak at two games.
“A great road trip would have been 4-1,” he said. “We can’t get that now, so 3-2 would be pretty decent. I think the bigger issue is you don’t want to ever lose three in a row. If you can do that, and stop losing streaks, and maybe during the season put together a winning streak, you can climb the ladder. It’s probably more important that we win the game just to end that losing streak.”
The Knicks didn’t have much of a chance against Golden State on Thursday night, and that was before they learned Anthony and Derrick Rose would miss the game with injuries.
Rose is the least likely of the pair to play Saturday night as he is still feeling soreness in his lower back. He said he’s “hopeful” of playing, but Hornacek said, “He looked a little stiff.”
Anthony left no doubt. “I’ll play,” he said.
Even if Anthony and Rose both return, the Knicks still need the other member of their Big Three to play better than he did against the Warriors.
With no Anthony or Rose to contend with, the Warriors focused their defensive energies on Kristaps Porzingis. They forced the second-year pro into a frustrating night in which he scored eight points on 4-for-13 shooting from the floor while being guarded by Golden State stopper Draymond Green.
Of Anthony and Rose, Porzingis said: “They’re both aggressive attacking always and drawing the defense. A lot of times the attention is on them more than on me and I’m able to get open looks and I’m able to move more without the ball. It makes a big difference.”
Just on his own team, Porzingis was outscored by Justin Holiday (15 points), Ron Baker (13), Brandon Jennings (10) and Courtney Lee (nine) in the Knicks’ 103-90 loss.
That’s not how Hornacek drew it up.
“It’s tough when you don’t have two of your main guys out there,” he said. “Now the focus is on KP more. I’m sure the focus was on him going into the game, trying to limit him. Draymond, he takes challenges. He’s got quick hands, he’s strong, so KP can’t really back him down. He did a good job of eliminating any of his open shots. Made him earn the shots that he made. That’s a credit to them.”