Mike Woodson got the answer he was looking for just 22 seconds into the game.
That’s how long it took Carmelo Anthony to show he was back, pulling up comfortably for a 3-pointer on New York’s first possession.
“Big-time relief,” the Knicks coach said. “I mean, lets me know that Melo’s being Melo.”
And the Knicks looked like the Knicks from earlier in the season, before Anthony’s struggles halted their momentum.
Anthony scored 21 points after missing the previous three games with a knee injury, and the Knicks beat the Orlando Magic 106-94 on Wednesday night.
J.R. Smith had 22 points for New York, still short-handed in the frontcourt but looking much better with Anthony back. The NBA’s second-leading scorer hadn’t played since leaving the Knicks’ road trip last week to have fluid drained from the back of his right knee. He said it felt better right after going to the hospital after he had been feeling discomfort for weeks.
“I feel good, I feel healthy,” Anthony said. “I’m glad I went and got that procedure done so I put that behind me now.”
He moved well and shot 7 of 14 while grabbing eight rebounds as the Knicks closed in on a playoff spot they could wrap up this week.
“Any time you have a great scorer like that, it’s going to be tough for you. Not one person in the league, in the world can guard him 1-on-1,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. “So you’ve got to do different things and try to get him out of his rhythm. I thought he did a great job by being patient and taking shots when he wanted to or needed to, and passing it when the double-team came.”
The Knicks shot 53 percent and won their second straight after dropping the first four games of their five-game trip. All-Star center Tyson Chandler is expected to miss about a week with a bulging disk, and reserve forwards Amare Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas all could miss the rest of the regular season. But New York had no trouble despite using a small lineup that featured 6-foot-9 Kenyon Martin as the center.
Iman Shumpert, who joined Anthony, Martin, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the lineup, sat out after hurting his knee late in the first half. He said he was scared after hearing a pop, having torn up his knee last spring, but trainers told him it was likely scar tissue. He sat on the bench in uniform and Woodson said he could have returned, but kept him out as the Knicks blew it open.
Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson each scored 14 points for the Magic in their fifth straight loss. They played without center Nikola Vucevic because of an illness in the second night of a difficult back-to-back, after falling by 22 at Indiana on Tuesday.
New York beat Orlando for the sixth straight time and swept the season series for the first time since 1997-98.
Anthony said he was feeling pain just before the All-Star break, more than a month ago. The knee became worse when the Knicks had games on back-to-back nights against Miami and Cleveland on March 3-4, and he fell to the court without contact while trying to catch a pass in the second game.
He missed the next three games, then came back. But he was clearly limited in losses at Golden State and Denver, totaling just 23 points, and he finally realized the knee needed more than just rest.
“I was worried because I didn’t really know what was the cause of it, what was going on,” he said. “I knew for sure that it wasn’t no ligament damage or anything like that, so I just wish that I could have gotten to the bottom of it quicker or we could’ve got to the bottom of it quicker.”
He had rejoined the team on the West Coast following the procedure but didn’t want to rush back, and determined he was ready Wednesday after feeling good over the last couple of days.
New York built a 22-7 lead after consecutive 3-pointers by Smith and Chris Copeland capped a 10-0 run. They led 26-15 after one, but Orlando got untracked with a 31-point second quarter, cutting it to 51-46 at the half.
The Knicks put it away midway through the third, getting two free throws and a follow shot by Anthony to start a 10-2 burst that extended a 10-point lead to 78-60.
“I think they’re the hardest team to defend in the NBA. With Melo and his ability to score and play the 4 and then with four shooters all around him, it’s hard to help out and get back. You saw tonight they made a lot of 3s,” Harris said. “They’re definitely a tough match-up team and that’s what makes them so good.”
Woodson said he didn’t expect the Knicks to make any moves to fortify the frontcourt because Wallace and Thomas could be back around the start of the playoffs. And he said he still “absolutely” believes in the Knicks’ decision to load up on older players over the summer, believing the injuries happened because the veterans played more minutes than expected because of injuries to other players. … Thomas said he’d had a stress fracture in his foot in 2006 while playing for Phoenix and had learned recently it didn’t completely heal. … The Knicks wished director and leading fan Spike Lee a happy birthday between the first and second quarters. … Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was ejected from Tuesday’s game and said he didn’t want to discuss his feelings about Indiana’s physical play for fear of losing more money, smiling that his wife was mad about the fines that come with the two technical fouls he received during the loss to the Pacers.