Kobe: Melo is the NBA's toughest cover

To Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony is the toughest cover in the NBA. Tougher, even, than LeBron James.

"For me, yeah," Bryant told Stephen A. Smith in an interview Wednesday.

"He's always been a player that I enjoyed guarding the most," Bryant said. "He was the most difficult because of his size and his speed."

Listen to Kobe's comments:

Play DownloadBryant added that Anthony's shooting range and his ability to drive to the rim and score in the post make him one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the NBA.

"Melo does it all and he's as strong as a bull," Bryant said. "For me, I weigh [180 pounds] soaking wet. Going up against that bull, man, it's fun but it's extremely challenging."

Bryant will face the challenge of playing Anthony and the Knicks on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Bryant, who loves playing at the Garden, knows he'll be facing an improved Knicks team.

The Knicks are off to a 16-5 start, their best in nearly 40 years.

Watching from afar, Bryant believes they can contend with the Heat for the Eastern Conference title this season.

"I believe so, because they believe it," he said. "They believe that they belong on that stage now. Whether or not they can overcome that remains to be seen. But they believe they can."

"When I watch them play, they play with a belief," Bryant said. "They believe that they deserve to be in this championship conversation. They’re playing with a conviction that wasn’t there before."

Bryant was asked if Anthony belonged in the early-season MVP conversation.

"Oh, for sure. Is that even a question? I don’t think that’s a question," Bryant said.

D'AN WILL BE DETERMINED AT MSG: Bryant is normally the headline act at the Garden, but that won't be the case Thursday night.

The bigger story is the return of Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to Madison Square Garden for the first time since he resigned as Knicks coach last March.

Bryant believes D'Antoni will be determined to walk off the Garden floor with a win.

"We’re stepping into a city that was very stressful for him. [He] left on a sour note. So I’m sure he has a lot of determination to win this ballgame," Bryant said. "And we have the determination to win a ballgame."

The Lakers are 4-8 under D'Antoni. The Knicks are 34-11 in the regular season since Mike Woodson took over the team.

TICKETS AREN'T CHEAP: According to the website Tiqiq.com, which tracks ticket prices on the secondary market, tickets for Knicks-Lakers on Thursday are astronomically priced.

The current average ticket price is $567.01, which ranks as the fourth-most expensive game in the NBA this season. The average price for this game is 71.57 percent above the Knicks' cumulative home average ticket price of $330.48. The highest-priced ticket listed is in VIP Courtside 12 Row AA for $26,000.