Updated: March 27, 2012, 11:50 AM ET

1. Moment Of Truth For Melo In New York

By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The grimace as he limped off the court with a tweaked groin muscle wouldn't suggest Carmelo Anthony had just entered a comfort zone.

He did, though.

His team's injury report is extensive and significant, and it includes Jeremy Lin, Jared Jeffries and, most notably, Amare Stoudemire, who's out for the dreaded "indefinite" period while he deals with a bulging disk in his lower back.

Knicks
Debby Wong/US PresswireSteve Novak, left, and Carmelo Anthony will need to give the Knicks an extra hand in the days ahead.

Yet because of it, Anthony gets to return to a place where he's most familiar.

What Carmelo displayed in scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the Knicks' semi-critical 89-80 home win against the Bucks on Monday night was what we've seen from him his entire career.

He was spinning in the post. He was working the baseline. He was pulling up from 15 feet. He was running hard on the break. He was himself, not that slumping, frustrated, lost version of Anthony we've seen over the past several weeks.

And if the Knicks want to hold on to that more comfortable 2½ game lead over the Bucks for the final playoff spot, Anthony has to stay in that familiar residence.

And not to suggest he enjoys his primary scoring partner being hampered with a serious injury, but Anthony doesn't mind one bit living in this happy place for a long while if his team needs it.

"It's a fun situation to be in ... It requires me to step up my game a little bit more," Anthony said after extended postgame treatment on his strained groin.

"I love moments like this."

It was easy to recognize that from the start of Monday's game, with the Knicks' offense going through Carmelo time and time again, mostly in the post, but always in spots he's known since he was a rookie.

It wasn't just that he had his best scoring game since exploding for 35 in a loss to these same Bucks on Jan. 20.

It was also that the Knicks went to their money man time and time again. It was that he controlled the offense, and with it, the tempo of the game. It was that he took 12 free throws and made them all.

And it was that he did it all with his teammates struggling badly from the field, and knowing the entire time this game's outcome would be decided by him.

"He relishes that moment," said Tyson Chandler, whose typical defensive effort helped keep the Bucks to 36.5 percent shooting. "Melo has always been, if not the best, one of the best scorers in the league.

"He's been getting a lot of flak for what's been going on this year, but I think he's having a heck of a year, myself."

There's more than a bit of irony that, after hearing for weeks he'd have to "fit in" with Lin once he cracked the lineup and flourished under former coach Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks' season could very well come down to Anthony returning to his score-first tendency.

As much as Chandler believes that Carmelo has had a "heck of a year," the truth is it has been the worst offensive season of his career. Making him the definitive first option in an offense suited more to his strengths might finally allow Anthony the chance to get that 20-point scoring average closer to his career average of 24.5.

Monday's 28 points came despite starting the game and playing many of his minutes at power forward. They came despite the fact the Bucks could've completely ignored Anthony's teammates and still fared well (the Knicks shot a sad 35.1 percent from the floor). And it's no coincidence they came at a time his Knicks needed them most.

"The greats love the pressure, and they get down on themselves when they feel like they're not playing up to expectations," Chandler said.

The Knicks won't always turn the ball over 23 times, like they did Monday (though they do have an unfathomable 67 turnovers over their last three games). They won't always launch 31 3-pointers and only hit seven, the way it played out against the Bucks.

So they might not need Anthony to be great every single game.

But it's safe to say the Knicks need him more now than they ever have in his tenure with the Knicks.

"The test is there," Anthony said. "It's right in front of our eyes."

Actually, for Anthony, it's in the mirror.

Israel Gutierrez, a former Miami Herald columnist, is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

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