Was Kobe's call the turning point for Melo?

It was a phone call between friends.

On one end of the line: Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.

On the other end: Carmelo Anthony, frustrated and a bit overwhelmed in the fishbowl of New York.

Bryant sensed something was amiss with Anthony during the 2012 All-Star Weekend -- in the midst of Linsanity -- so he reached out to his friend and fellow Olympian, sharing advice with Anthony that may have changed the course of this New York Knicks season.

Bryant, in New York earlier this month, recalled his conversation with Anthony and the circumstances surrounding it.

"Everybody said, 'Well, they're better without Carmelo,' and all this nonsense," Bryant said. "You guys really put the hammer on him, and as a result, he kind of got a little gun shy and a little self-conscious about things.

"I asked him, 'What's going on? What the hell are you doing?' I said, 'Do what you do best.'"

What transpired this season in the first 27 games has been well-documented: Anthony, who returned from the Olympics in peak condition, is a more willing passer and has thrived on mismatches at power forward. He has also improved his shot selection and routinely given an honest day's effort on the defensive end.

As a result, he is an early-season contender for MVP and the leader of a Knicks team carrying a 20-7 record into their Christmas Day showdown with Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers.

Last week, Anthony recalled the conversation he had with Bryant.

"He was just like, 'What's wrong? You know you're not healthy. Just make sure you get healthy and come back and do what you've got to do. Try not to worry about what's going on, what's being said and just play basketball,'" Anthony said. "'You know what you can do. You know what you're capable of. Go from there.'

"At that point in time it was something that was good to hear, especially coming from a guy like that."

It's easy to forget, but at the time of the conversation, Anthony was seen by some as the bad guy in a drama unfolding nightly at Madison Square Garden.

Jeremy Lin had emerged off the end of the bench to lift the floundering Knicks to seven straight wins -- all while Anthony was sidelined with a groin injury.

Along the way, Lin became an international phenomenon. Some wondered aloud whether Anthony's return would ruin what Lin had established. Anthony reportedly was put off by the idea that he had to fit in with Lin.

"Last year was a very tough year for everybody due to injuries, due to the shortened season with the lockout," Anthony said earlier this season. "As far as mentally, it was a drain for everybody."

Anthony and Lin teamed up in the starting lineup for 17 games before Lin suffered a season-ending knee injury. Anthony led the Knicks to the playoffs.

Lin, of course, is in Houston now and Anthony is surrounded by players such as Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, who seem to complement him well.

Entering play Tuesday, Anthony is averaging 28.3 points and connecting on a career-high 43.7 percent of his threes. His production thus far led Bryant to refer to him as the toughest cover on the planet -- over LeBron James.

"Melo does it all and he's as strong as a bull," Bryant said told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith earlier this month, before the Knicks-Lakers game in New York. "I weigh [180 pounds] soaking wet. Going up against that bull, man, it's fun but it's extremely challenging."

That challenge will be front and center on Tuesday. According to Elias, it will be just the third time in league history that the NBA's top two scorers match up on Christmas Day.

"It's a big game. A big game for us, big game for the league, big game for basketball," Anthony said.

It's even bigger because Anthony's playing the best basketball of his 10-year career, thanks in part to a phone call from Kobe.

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.