Melo is Mr. Must-Win

Maybe we should call him "Must Win" Melo.

For the second straight game, Carmelo Anthony backed up a "must-win" proclamation with a monster night. And for the second straight game, the Knicks came out with a victory.

Anthony had 39, including 20 in the third quarter, to help propel the Knicks to a 120-116 win over the New Jersey Nets. Earlier Wednesday morning, Anthony referred to the game as a must win.

The Knicks have won back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks and the first time since Anthony’s Feb. 23 Knicks debut.

The first "W" of the streak came Monday night against the Magic, a game in which Anthony hung 39 on Orlando after declaring it a must-win on Monday morning.

On Wednesday, Anthony elevated a Knicks team that was stagnant in the first half with 20 points in the third, including seven points in the Knicks' 14-5 run to open the third quarter that made a ten-point halftime deficit manageable.

“We were kind of dead in the first half, for whatever reason,” Anthony said about a half hour after the Knicks improved to 9-12 since his arrival. “I just figured, if I come out there and show some effort out there, some intensity, some energy, that the guys would follow that … And it worked tonight.”

Chauncey Billups, who came over from Denver in the three-team, 13-player deal that brought Anthony to New York, certainly followed suit.

Billups had ten points in the fourth and finished with a Knicks career high 33. He knocked down five key free throws in the quarter, three of which came after a Jordan Farmar foul. Initially officials ruled that the foul occurred inside the arc. But after video review, they determined Billups deserved three shots.

He knocked down all three to tie the game at 114 with 2:54 to play. Anthony (who else) followed with a 10-foot jumper over Travis Outlaw to give the Knicks the lead for good with 1:08 remaining in the fourth. It was his only field goal of the fourth quarter.

“They were falling again tonight, shots were falling,” Anthony said of his performance. “I was just taking advantage of how they were guarding me out there. I don’t know what else to say other than shots were falling.”

Enough said. Lately, Anthony’s scoring has said more than enough. The 26-year-old four-time All-Star hit for 36, 39 and 39 in the Knicks’ last three games. He’s done so while hitting 52 percent of his shots.

“It feels good man, especially right now, the time that it’s happening,” he said. “In must-win situations, games that we really need coming down the stretch, getting into the playoffs. It’s almost the perfect time for me to get into a groove like that.”

Wednesday night’s win closed an up-and-down (mostly down) month of March for Anthony and the Knicks. They played 18 games in 30 days, including six back-to-backs and two sets of four games in five nights. They finished the month 7-11, losing six straight at one point and falling into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

“Glad this month is over,” Amare Stoudemire said. “…. Now it is time to get it going for the playoff push.”

The Knicks have seven games remaining in the regular season, four of which come against teams with sub .500 records.

Their magic number is down to three (any number of Knicks wins or Charlotte losses or any combination of both that adds up to three) to clinch their first playoff berth since 2004.