No joke! Melo pumped for B-more return

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When Carmelo Anthony first heard the Knicks would be playing in Baltimore, the city he called home during his formative years, he thought he was the victim of a prank.

"I thought it was a joke," Anthony said Wednesday. "I was actually surprised to hear that."

For the first time since his high school days (not including charity appearances), Anthony will play in Baltimore when the Knicks face the Wizards on Thursday in their fourth preseason game. Melo played for Towson Catholic High School for three years.

"I'm excited about that, just for that opportunity once again," Anthony said. "Ain't no telling when I'll get another chance to play back in front of that crowd."

While Anthony was born in Brooklyn, he's always had a special connection with Baltimore. He said he usually makes it back there every summer, although he couldn't this year because he was rehabbing his left shoulder tear. He talked appreciatively of the tight bonds he's forged with those from the area.

"I was born in Brooklyn. Where I really learned my life skills was when I was in Baltimore," said Anthony, who moved to Baltimore when he was 8. "That's the city that raised me. Brooklyn will always be in my blood, always be in my heart. But Baltimore is the city that definitely raised me."

As the game approaches, Anthony said he didn't comprehend the magnitude of the game until he started receiving a massive amount of texts and phone calls. He's heard plenty about how pumped Baltimore is to have him playing there again.

Anthony, who said some of his Baltimore friends don't like it when he says he's a New Yorker, is looking forward to the reception and expects a loud crowd.

"I think it will be a different type of feeling looking in the crowd and knowing that I know probably three-fourths of the people that will be at that game," Anthony said Monday. "Baltimore is that type of small community where everybody knows everybody. It's just a different feeling playing in front of the people you grew up with, seeing old friends, family and things like that.

"I just want to have fun, win the basketball game and move on."

Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he will talk with the All-Star forward to see how he's feeling Thursday before deciding how many minutes to play Anthony. Anthony's minutes will probably fall in line with his time from the first two preseason games, when he played 22 and 25, respectively. Anthony did not play in the Knicks' most recent preseason game, against the Celtics.

"If he plays 25 minutes, that’s good enough," Woodson said. "Again, we’re not trying to gear things to certain people. I’m trying to just find combinations to see what works and I think the last two games is when we’ll start playing people and really trying to get our rotations down."