It didn't take long for Carmelo Anthony to announce that he was back on Wednesday night.
The ball found its way to his hands on the Knicks' first possession and Anthony let fly with a three-pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net. The shot looked smooth, Anthony moved back down on defense without any sign of lingering pain and the Knicks would never trail on their way to a 106-94 win that kept them in first place by themselves.
It wasn't an entirely stress-free win over the woeful Magic, who were able to make it a game in the fourth quarter, but it was as close to one as they have had in weeks. Anthony looked like himself, hitting 7-of-14 shots and allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief about the status of the team's best player after he missed six of the last eight games.
Despite the reams of evidence to the contrary, it has somehow remained a theme among some Knicks fans that the team is somehow better without Anthony on the floor but the fact is that the Knicks aren't winning the Atlantic Division without having his offensive skills at their disposal. He wasn't otherworldly on Wednesday night, but he was healthy and that alone is enough to make the load feel a little lighter.
It helps that the rest of the team also seems to have learned some lessons about life with so many bodies sidelined by injuries. The lax defense and listless effort from early in the road trip have given way to a much better approach over the last three games.
They may be too undersized to get anything done on the glass, but they are rotating crisply and stopping teams from taking easy trips to the hoop. That makes a big difference, as does a renewed attention to moving the ball on offense enough to find more open shots than contested jumpers.
Playing Pablo Prigioni for more minutes seems to be helping on that front and J.R. Smith has limited his head-slapping moments to the bare minimum, which shows a welcome evolution after weeks of the same old problems cropping up every single night.
You don't want to make too much out of wins over the Jazz and Magic, but it does seem that the Knicks have settled a situation that looked as if it was about to get totally out of hand.
These being the Knicks, there was still an injury scare. Iman Shumpert didn't play after halftime after he heard a pop in his surgically repaired left knee.
Shump's game has shown signs of coming around of late, which makes the timing of this pop quite bad indeed. It seems that a bullet has been dodged, all reports are that Shumpert's doing just fine now, and that he should be back in the lineup soon enough.
With a back-to-back against the Raptors on Friday and Saturday, the Knicks get two more chances to pick up wins before the competition steps back up with a trip to Boston. These are essential wins for playoff position, making it all the better that the Melo the Knicks know and love is back on the court.