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Carmelo Anthony a challenge for Mavs

NEW YORK -- The Dallas Mavericks have struggled to defend stretch 4s of late, allowing LeBron James (42 points), Thaddeus Young (30) and Josh Smith (32) to go off in consecutive games.

And it doesn’t get any easier Monday night when they take to the floor against Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who ranks second in the NBA in scoring (27.9 PPG).

“Right now, he and LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the three hardest guys to guard in the game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We played against James five days ago and he had a huge game. And this is just as difficult. Carmelo is on a roll like, he’s averaging [34.6] points in his last five games. I mean, it’s a really difficult task.”

In his past three games, Anthony has posted point totals of 42, 44 and 35.

The good news? His supporting cast has struggled for much of the season, which is why New York has a 21-35 record.

Playing in the Mecca: Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 27.2 points in 13 career games at Madison Square Garden.

“I want you to name a building Dirk hasn't played great in,” Carlisle quipped. “I think that would be my response. He’s been at it a lot of years, and I think guys like Dirk, Jason Kidd always had great success here, Vince [Carter] has been in here a lot. People respect that this is in many ways kind of the basketball epicenter of the world. I mean, New York City is big when it comes to basketball, and the fans here are into it, they appreciate it, and this is a special place to play.”

No doghouse: Despite being a DNP-coach’s decision Saturday, Carlisle said Jae Crowder is not in the doghouse.

“There are no doghouses around here,” Carlisle said. “You gotta be ready because your number could be called at any time.”