Carmelo Anthony's Hero Ball Is NBA Playoffs' Biggest X-Factor

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Carmelo Anthony's Hero Ball Is NBA Playoffs' Biggest X-Factor

The early talk surrounding the Tuesday night Eastern Conference showdown between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat was about which players would not be partaking in the events.

LeBron James (hamstring), Dwyane Wade (ankle) and Mario Chalmers (ankle) were sidelined for the Heat.

But the focus quickly shifted to the players on the floor. Well, one of them in particular.

Carmelo Anthony rang up the first eight points of the night on a trio of swished jumpers. He sprinted out to 27 points in the first half (on 9-of-12 shooting), just a half-point shy of his average output for the entire season.

But the undermanned Heat weren't just keeping pace with Anthony's Knicks. Miami actually held a 58-50 advantage after the game's first 24 minutes.

Of course, Anthony had no intentions of letting the Heat stand-ins overshadow his efforts. He masterfully extended his dominance through every one of his 40 minutes.

By the game's final buzzer, the stunned Miami faithful were forced to process far more than just a 102-90 loss—just the fourth Heat loss AmericanAirlines Arena had seen all season.

Anthony's scoring outburst flirted with perfection:
 


As great as it sounded in words, it looked even better in its efficient execution:
 


The production wasn't anything Anthony hadn't produced before. In fact, neither was the accompanying efficiency:
 


Anthony joined Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry as the only players to reach the 50-point plateau this season.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Anthony (27.9 PPG) trails only Durant (28.3 PPG) in the scoring title race.

But even that company wasn't exclusive enough to truly capture Anthony's dominant performance:
 


For Knicks fans, though, the real story stemming from New York's third win of the season over Miami has yet to be written.

With a decade of futility fresh on their minds, the Knicks are hoping for far more than just their first postseason series win since the 1999-00 season. Anthony may just be the right man to guide them to new heights.

He's far from a perfect player. In fact, noticeably absent from his stat line were any other meaningful numbers. He had just two rebounds and two assists to show for his playing time.

But in between his awe-inducing scoring bursts, Anthony reminded the basketball world just what a unique talent he truly is.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony won't always be able to do it himself, but having players like Smith around will help ease his offensive burden.

He's seen in many basketball circles as the most well-rounded scorer in the league. On nights like this, he's impossible to bother for even the strongest defender.

His supporting cast in New York is a blend of streaky shooters and injury questions. 

J.R. Smith sputtered back to Earth in this game with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Tyson Chandler returned to action after missing 10 games with a strained neck, but he was clearly limited (four fouls, three turnovers and two rebounds in nearly 24 minutes).

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Amar'e Stoudemire hopes to return in time for the postseason (via Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com). He may have a better chance of returning to the floor than veterans Rasheed Wallace or Kurt Thomas.

The Knicks certainly have their flaws, but they also have one of the few players in the league capable of not only frustrating a great defense, but also swinging a series when he hits one of these grooves:
 


New York can't do better than maintain its second seed in the Eastern Conference, but it did manage to shrink its magic number to five in the Atlantic Division. It couldn't have done more to build its confidence for a potential Eastern Conference Finals clash with the defending champs.

Undermanned or not, Anthony's production was impossible for Miami to miss.

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