When Carmelo Anthony first came to the Knicks, there was a lot of talk about how he saw his game being similar to that of Bernard King, the supernova that burned brightly and far too briefly for the Knicks way back when.
The styles aren't exactly the same and cross-era comparisons are always imperfect, but what we've seen from Melo over the last month is the closest thing that the Knicks have had to King. And on Wednesday night in Newark, it looked like he might wind up usurping King as the franchise's single-game scoring leader.
Anthony hit his first six shots, including three threes, and wound up scoring 21 points in the first quarter as he appeared to be throwing ping pong balls into the Grand Canyon instead of shooting a basketball at a hoop. The Nets, like just about everyone else in the NBA of late, were powerless to do anything but watch as Anthony made a mockery of their defense.
King's mark of 60 (set against the Nets, incidentally) looked to be at risk and the Knicks, up 16 after one, looked to be on an easy path toward solidifying their playoff future. Looks turned out to be a bit deceiving, although the Knicks did wind up 104-95 winners in their final visit to New Jersey.
We digress for a moment to say farewell to New Jersey basketball ourselves, a history that was best summed up on Wednesday night during a moment when the arena ran a tribute video featuring guys like Ed O'Bannon, Yinka Dare and Kenny Anderson. Nets basketball has been more death march than pleasure cruise over the years, which is probably why there wasn't anyone in the arena actually rooting for the Nets to win on Wednesday night.
Anthony cooled off, hitting just 3-of-11 shots and finishing with 33 points after the Nets threw more and more defenders his way, and the rest of the Knicks weren't nearly as hot as they were against the Celtics on Tuesday night. The Nets, in a show of great credit to Avery Johnson for getting something out of his team playing without Deron Williams and in front of a hostile home crowd, whittled the lead all the way down to six.
Jared Jeffries and Baron Davis didn't play, which meant that the bench was thin enough to force Toney Douglas, Billy Walker and Josh Harrellson -- sporting a shiner that meshed well with his handlebar mustache -- into the game at the same time in the second quarter. That led to some ugly basketball, especially the periods when J.R. Smith's shot was the polar opposite of what it was against the Celtics, but the Knicks found buckets when they needed to down the stretch.
Tyson Chandler had 18, Smith shot enough to wind up with 15 and Mike Bibby, who started in place of Davis, hit a couple of three-pointers to sew up a part in the next George Romero film. Decent efforts, but, basically, the Nets were just as good if not better than the Knicks when you took Anthony's first quarter explosion out of the equation.
You can't do that, of course, because Anthony is the most vital part of the equation and removing him would leave you with a bunch of weird symbols that don't wind up meaning anything at all. This is the Anthony the Knicks traded for and this is the Anthony that will decide where this wonderfully chaotic season comes to an end.
Over 12 minutes like he had at the start of Wednesday night, the possibilities for that destination feel dizzyingly fantastic.