When it comes to pure scoring ability, there aren't many NBA players that can hang on Carmelo Anthony's level.
We got a giant, honking reminder of that on Sunday evening when the Knicks took on the Hawks. With Raymond Felton still shaking off the rust and J.R. Smith's shooting touch still lost on Saturn, the Knicks needed something special from Anthony to avoid losing for the third time in their last four games.
Melo provided exactly that, although he made everyone wait a little while. Through the first 21 minutes of the game, Anthony missed seven of his first nine shots and three of four three-pointers. In the final 27 minutes, he hit 13-of-19 from the floor and 8-of-9 from three on his way to 42 points.
The nine threes tied a Knicks record, but the biggest shot came with 12 seconds left when Anthony drove past Josh Smith for a layup while getting fouled. He nailed the free throw to thundering "MVP" chants rolling down from the Garden stands and Smith missed a three at the buzzer to allow the Knicks to escape with a 106-104 win.
It would be easy to accentuate the positive and marvel at what Anthony is capable of doing when he's feeling it on a basketball court. The first three shots that Anthony hit to snap out of his early malaise were all threes and each of them was a little deeper than the one before, as if Anthony was curious to see if the basket looked just as big from 40 feet as it looked from 25 feet away.
Doing that would ignore something that will threaten to undo any of the good done by sizzling offensive nights like Anthony had on Sunday. That would be a defense that fell flat for a second straight night.
On Saturday night in Philly, Jrue Holliday put on an Anthony-esque performance by dropping 35 points that could have been 60 given the way the Knicks were failing to defend him en route to a 97-80 loss that never felt that close. The Sixers shot a shade over 50 percent, which sounds good until you realize that the Hawks made 60 percent of their attempts on Sunday to force Anthony to go otherworldly to win the game.
Tyson Chandler was bothered by a neck issue, which surely helped the Hawks score on what seemed like everyone of their two-point shot attempts, but Chandler alone can't explain the dreadful protection of the Knicks' house. They're missing the injured veteran forwards, knocking rust off the other recent returnees and figuring out rotations that will optimize performance on both ends of the court.
Amar'e Stoudemire isn't making that easy. STAT's looked just fine when it comes to meshing on the offensive side of the ball -- he was the best player in Philly and scored 18 in 29 minutes off the bench Sunday -- but he's still one of the least aware defensive players in the league.
You can't turn your nose up on the offense (or the offensive rebounding), but balancing out those things along with the playing time of the rest of the players on the roster is going to tax Mike Woodson. With the schedule softening up over the next stretch, it will be a necessary opportunity to tinker with different looks to find ones that get the Knicks firing at both ends of the court.
And, should that fail, then just let Anthony take the ball and see what he can do with it. Based on Sunday, there are worse things for the Knicks.