Playing Panic or Patience with Carmelo Anthony's Knee Injury

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Playing Panic or Patience with Carmelo Anthony's Knee Injury
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The New York Knicks aren't quite in the clear, but they're not yet panicking, either.

After an 0-4 start for a five-game West Coast road trip (which concludes with Monday night's game against the Utah Jazz), the Knicks have plenty of reasons for pessimism.

They've been worse than a .500 team since their strong 18-5 start, holding just a 20-21 record in their 41 games since. Things have gotten even worse on their current road trip, as the Knicks have yet to keep any of those four games within single digits.

Although far from the league's oldest team's only injury, Carmelo Anthony's lingering battle with a sore knee has risen to the forefront of the club's concerns. The one-time MVP candidate has missed five of the Knicks' past seven games since taking a non-contact spill against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Mar. 4.

Anthony built the strength of his MVP campaign on his newfound effectiveness working out of the offensive post and commitment to extending his efforts to the defensive end.

But with the Knicks' growing injury report (via CBSSports.com), Mike Woodson has been forced to ask for more out of his star player. With Anthony's 34.2 usage rate pacing his NBA peers (via basketball-reference.com), the fact that this injury cropped up isn't nearly as surprising as how long it took to present itself.

Now that Amar'e Stoudemire's second knee debridement has likely rendered him sidelined until the postseason (via Alex Raskin of NJ.com), Anthony has reclaimed his position as the Knicks' best power forward.

The problem, though, is that he might also be their best point guard.

Raymond Felton has been nearly matching his assists (4.6 per game) with his turnovers (3.1) in his last 11 outings (via basketball-reference.com). Jason Kidd has all but shot his way out of meaningful minutes (31.2 field-goal percentage, 26.8 three-point percentage since Jan. 1, via basketball-reference.com).

Pablo Prigioni is an inspiring story—35-year-old rookies don't come along very often (via Nate Taylor of the New York Times)—but adjusting to the NBA's style after spending his first 15 seasons abroad leaves little hope that coach Mike Woodson will bump his 14.6 minutes per game.

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With Prigioni's limited playing time and the struggles of Felton and Kidd, Anthony has assumed more of the ballhandling duties of late.
And there's an added layer to these struggles—Anthony's the best offensive wing on the roster. Outside of Felton and J.R. Smith, there aren't many players other than Anthony capable of creating strong offensive chances off the dribble.

Smith (the second-leading scorer with 16.7 points per game) is a boom-or-bust player. And he's going to stay on the trigger regardless if he's "booming" or "busting" on that particular night.

Felton works best as a distributor out of pick-and-roll sets, but he's looked markedly different in those situations with Stoudemire as his screener. Tyson Chandler knows how to set a solid screen and beeline straight for the basket, but he doesn't have the offensive ability to create points when the play breaks down like Stoudemire did.

Both Stoudemire's and Felton's best times as Knicks have come when playing together.
There's reason for apprehension, as the Knicks (38-26) have fallen a game behind the second-seed Indiana Pacers (40-26). Even more so considering that the team now has just 2.5 games separating themselves from the seventh-seed Boston Celtics (36-29).

But that's hardly a reason to rush Anthony back to action. If anything, it's all the more reason to be extra cautious since the diminishing number of healthy bodies could be placing a greater toll on New York's already overworked star.

And finally there's a bit of optimism around the organization, even as everything appears to be crashing down around them. Anthony believes his knee troubles are behind him after getting some fluid drained from behind his right knee (according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday).

It's been an interesting ride for the 2012-13 Knicks, filled with some of the highest highs and lowest lows of any playoff competitor.

But having a healthy Anthony come playoff time could give New York one of the brightest playoff forecasts in the league.

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