Nobody told them that on Thursday night, though, as the Melo-less Knicks came within a missed J.R. Smith jumper at the buzzer of beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, losing 95-94. The Thunder (45-16) used 34 points from Kevin Durant to down the Knicks (37-22) in a battle of both conference's No. 2 seeds.
Smith stepped up big for the Knicks while Anthony set again, scoring 36 points off the bench and pacing New York on offense on a night only three Knicks finished in double figures. Coach Mike Woodson opted to keep Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd on the bench to start in his absence, but didn't get much from Kurt Thomas or Iman Shumpert (two points a piece) on the evening.
Per the usual, Durant and Russell Westbrook paced the Thunder, with Durant's big night coupled with Westbrook's 21 points. Kevin Martin added 16 off the bench for the Thunder, who are still 2.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs in the win column out West.
Player of the Game: Thunder G/F Kevin Durant
Durant finished with his 34 points, but also added eight rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers and a blocked shot in a stat-stuffing line. He went toe-to-toe with Smith all night, and emerged victorious after putting in two free throws with a little more than a minute remaining to play that ended up sealing the game.
While his 34 points are impressive, Durant also got to the free throw line and capitalized—something that is huge in road games that end up coming down to the final shot. Durant finished 14-of-15 from the line on Thursday, yet another reason he's one of the most unguardable players on the planet.
Next Up for the Thunder
Oklahoma City will continue its two-game road trip on Friday, heading to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats. However, Charlotte is entering territory of having nothing to lose at this point in the season (except maybe the No. 1 overall pick in the draft)—meaning it is a dangerous opponent for OKC on the road.
The Thunder will then go home for a game against the Boston Celtics before a crucial road contest against Interstate-35 rival, San Antonio on Monday.
Next Up for the Knicks
The Knicks will host the Utah Jazz on Saturday and then begin a five-game road trip against Western Conference playoff teams that could very well determine their finish in the Eastern Conference.
Games during that stretch include the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs, all teams that will give New York a good gauge of where it's at while integrating Anthony back into the lineup at some point.