Woody: No question Melo is MVP candidate

Carmelo Anthony was in the Knicks starting lineup for the first time in four days on Sunday night.

But, truth be told, he wasn't really back for the Knicks until the fourth quarter on Sunday.

In the final 12 minutes, he was the Carmelo the Knicks had grown accustomed to this season.

He scored 11 key fourth quarter points to help the Knicks hold off the Nuggets -- his former team -- and win their eighth straight home game to open the season.

Afterward, Mike Woodson gushed.

"Melo is playing at such a high level. There's no question he's one of the MVP candidates in the league this early season," Woodson said after his Knicks improved to 15-5 on the year. "He's been great for us. His teammates, they rely on him. And he's relying on guys around him to help him. That's the beauty of our team right now."

It's hard to argue with Woodson after his team made all the right plays down the stretch against Denver.

But there was nothing beautiful about the way Anthony opened the game.

He missed his first five shots and missed four of his first eight attempts from the free-throw line. It was a combination of rust -- Anthony hadn't played since last Wednesday, sitting out the Knicks' past two games because of laceration on his left middle finger -- and getting used to playing with five stitches on his hand.

"As the game went on, I started to feel more comfortable," Anthony said afterward. "It was just a matter of trying to get a feel for the ball with the tape job and the splint on there. It is what it is."

Anthony finished with 34 points and six rebounds against his former team. He dismissed the notion that he had any extra motivation going against the Nuggets, whom he spent the first 7 1/2 years of his career with before demanding a trade to New York in 2011.

There were hard feelings on both sides of the trade, but Nuggets coach George Karl was complimentary of Anthony before the game and said eventually, he thinks Anthony will win an NBA title, provided he focuses on the game's intangibles.

If one of them is the ability to perform with the game on the line, Anthony showed that he has that covered on Sunday night.

With Denver down four with 6:30 to go, Anthony reeled off five straight points to give the Knicks a comfortable advantage.

Two minutes later, he found J.R. Smith wide open for a 3-pointer to put the Knicks up nine with 3:45 to go.

When Denver cut the lead to four, Anthony answered with a 16-foot jumper and driving layup to give New York a six-point lead with 1:31 to go and essentially seal the game.

There were points during the run when he feared that his stitches were coming undone.

"I was afraid to take the bandages off. I thought it was going to be bleeding," Anthony said. "I thought that it was going to be busted open at that time but it was pretty good."

It was pretty good, and so was Anthony.