Without Amar'e Stoudemire this season, Carmelo Anthony has carried the Knicks on his back to their strongest start in years.
Anthony has gotten help from a cast of characters that included defensive anchor Tyson Chandler and playmaking extraordinaire Jason Kidd---both of whom are major contributions, but neither stand tall as a dominating force on offense.
The Brooklyn native has looked to Raymond Felton as number two in command throughout the year, but even Felton still lacks that clutch gene and the ice in his veins. When Anthony is sidelined, who else can the Knicks turn to in order to help carry them to victory?
Against the Suns on Wednesday tonight, New York was forced to find out. With Anthony and Felton both down for the count, it was a certainty the team needed unlikely sources to step up if they stood a chance to win.
Kidd served as one of those unlikely sources of offensive production, as the floor general played big minutes and scored a season-high 23 points. With Felton expected to be out for a prolonged period of time, he's likely to have that burden again and again as time goes on.
Chris Copeland poured in 14 points of his own off the bench. After watching players like Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak rise from obscurity last season, the 28 year old is quickly becoming a surprise in a similar sense. A bold and fearless shot-taker, Copeland's quick release is making it difficult for defenders to react in time to stop him. And he's becoming a fan-favorite because of it.
The importance and contributions of the likes of Chandler, Kidd, and Copeland has been mentioned, but who, in Anthony's absence, serves as Mr. Clutch?
In order to win without the star forward, we've said repeatedly here at KnicksJournal.com that the Knicks simply need to do one thing: Make J.R. Smith their Melo.
Smith has always been bold, and has always been the type of guy who wants the ball in his hands at the end of games. But in the past, his immaturity, coupled with an inconsistent jumper that would make everyone else in view cringe, such a role wasn't yet in the cards.
But with a new coach's confidence (Mike Woodson) and guidance helped Smith zone in, act more more mature, and accept more responsibility. With these off-the-court things taken care of, Smith has risen up as a totally different player.
And make no mistake, it's been for the better. Smith's heroics on Wednesday night, not only to hit a shot with a defender draped all over him to tie the game, but also another dagger to sink the Suns, only prove it.
The guard poured in a 27 point performance overall to lead the Knickerbockers to a 99-97 win. The team will travel to Sacramento, to face the Kings on Friday night.