The Knicks really needed a win in Detroit on Wednesday night.
They return home to play the Thunder on Thursday, host the Jazz on Saturday and then head out on a five-game Western Conference road trip that will seriously test the team whether or not Carmelo Anthony is in the lineup. That made a win against a weak Pistons team playing without three key frontcourt players and their head coaches as imperative as it gets.
And they got the win, an 87-77 eyesore that proved a couple of points. The first is that the Pistons are a dreadful basketball team and the second is that the Knicks aren't a better team without Anthony.
That's been bandied about at times over the last few years by those who concentrate on the nights when Anthony shoots 6-for-20 from the floor without getting to the line at the expense of the times when Anthony's scoring is the one thing keeping his team alive. The two games preceding Wednesday's win are a perfect example.
Against Miami, Anthony was spectacular in the first half and the Heat altered their defense to stop him and force the rest of the Knicks to win the game. No one stepped up and a 16-point Knicks lead evaporated in a flurry of LeBron James highlights.
Anthony was off to a terrible start Monday night in Cleveland before he left the game with his knee injury, something that heavily contributed to the Knicks' 22-point deficit in the first half of the game. The rest of the Knicks moved the ball and defended enough to flip things up, which somehow became the latest bit of evidence in a case against Anthony as the Knicks' star.
Wednesday night doesn't figure to be part of their case. The Knicks wound up winning because they had at least four of the five best players in the game, but it was a slog because those players remain a supporting cast in need of a central figure to revolve around.
J.R. Smith hit some big shots in the fourth quarter spurts that put the game away, but he also shot the lead away during the third quarter. Raymond Felton scored 26 points and actually made a reverse layup to the shock of all, but he also had seven of the team's season-high 21 turnovers as their usually careful ball control went over the wayside as players were stretched to provide scoring in Melo's absence.
Amar'e Stoudemire continued his fine offensive work and the absence of the Pistons forwards gave him a break defensively, but it's hard to imagine going to battle with this Melo-less team every night and battling for much more than the eighth spot in the playoffs. Everyone is forced to do too much and the team doesn't have that reliable option at their disposal whenever things bog down for others.
You can survive for one ugly night against a team of the Pistons' caliber, but the Knicks are supposed to be aiming for more than surviving. They're supposed to be about thriving and that's not possible with Anthony on the sideline, something to keep in mind the next time he has a bad shooting game.