The New York Knicks won their third straight by defeating the Phoenix Suns, 106-99, last night at Madison Square Garden. They are now 7-0 at MSG for the season (18-1 at home under Mike Woodson) and 12-4 on the season.
New York is currently second in the East, half a game behind the Miami Heat and half a game behind Memphis and Miami for the best record in the entire NBA. This years Knicks team has been a refreshing for Knicks fans as the 2012 Knicks actually play defense!
More importantly their superstar Carmelo Anthony has been playing defense, and the best basketball of his career. He is in the best shape of his career and playing on a superstar level. After being called out by media pundits for his lack of effort and being routed by the Miami Heat in last years playoffs Melo has responded in a big way.
Going into Sunday's game against the Suns Anthony was shooting a career-high 44% from beyond arc (4-10 against Phoenix). He is averaging 26.6 points a game, behind only Kobe Bryant for leads leading scorer. He is actually shooting better from three than 3-point sharpshooter Steve Novak.
Melo is feeling healthier this season after dealing with multiple injuries last year. He dealt with nagging pains in his thumb, ankle and wrist last year missing 11 games while Linsanity was in full force. This year he shows no sign of ailment and has been balling, to say the least.
Teammate Steve Novak has also noticed the difference in Anthony,
"He's shooting great," he said. "I mean, he's so focused, he's healthy. He's not only shooting it well, obviously, but he's playing great defense. He's our leader. If he's playing the right way, you're going to do well as a team."
Defense has been a mantra the whole Knicks team has taken behind their superstar, they are currently ninth in league in points allowed per game. Watching the game against the Suns Melo made repeatedly made effort plays on defense, stripping the ball and diving to keep it in bounce.
This has been the biggest transformation in Melo's game and factor in being in the MVP talk. He could always score but now he's clamping down and playing both sides of the court. Credit this to head coach Mike Woodson who challenged Carmelo to lose weight in the offseason and focus on his defensive play.
Anthony has responded in a big way.
"I know I can do [play defense]," Anthony said. "It's not a matter of me not being able to do it. It was me just saying, 'OK, I'm going to do it now.' We have a coach that stays on me about it. There wasn't a defensive system since I came to New York, but
Even Knicks fanatic Spike Lee noticed Anthony's efforts,
"Carmelo is just playing a complete game," Lee said. "Now for whatever reason that is, I don't want to get into it. I don't know. But there is a distinct difference in what he is doing now and when he first put on a Knick uniform."
Madison Square Garden has been yelling "M-V-P!!!" every time Melo has been on the court this season. They have a legit case although it is very early in the season. How Carmelo and the Knicks continue to play going into the thick of the season will determine if Anthony stays in the MVP discussion.
But for now, Melo's chances are looking good.