Carmelo Anthony thinks game in Denver is a ‘must-win’ for Knicks

DENVER — Carmelo Anthony will get to see if his rest paid off in what he’s already dubbed a “must-win” circumstance for the Knicks.

The star forward said he will indeed play Saturday in his fourth return to Denver, a place he’s still never won as an opponent. But more importantly than any personal motivations, the Knicks (14-12) need a win to prevent their first three-game losing streak and a 2-3 road trip.

The difference between a good road swing and a disappointing one comes down to the final game against the Nuggets (10-16).

“It’s a big game for us. It’s a big game. Must-win, I know it’s early, but this is kind of a must-win mentality for us,” Anthony said. “Started off the road trip pretty good, had an opportunity to win in Phoenix. That was one we let slip away. (On Thursday against Golden State), it is what it is. But (Saturday) we have an opportunity to turn this into a good trip for us.”

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Anthony skipped the blowout defeat in Golden State because of a sore right shoulder, which was something he said affected his shot. There was also a tacit admission from Anthony that the opponent – the Warriors – played a role in him missing the game since there was no way the Knicks could beat the NBA’s best unless he was 100 percent.

So he sat out the game, and declared about the contest in Denver, “I’ll play. …I’ll be ready.”

Derrick Rose was less optimistic. Although he went through the entire practice Friday, the point guard “looked a little stiff,” according to coach Jeff Hornacek.

Carmelo Anthony has never won as an opponent in Denver.

Carmelo Anthony has never won as an opponent in Denver.

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Rose has been dealing with a back injury that kept him out of three of the last five games.

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“He was okay, better than he was before,” Hornacek said. “Again, I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to allow him to play (Saturday) or not. We’re hoping that he is.”

The Knicks started their season-long, 11-day road trip with two straight wins, and a feeling that they’ve turned the corner. But the overtime defeat in Phoenix felt like a setback, and the loss to Golden State – much like the two against Cleveland earlier in the season — served as a reminder that the Knicks have a long way to go for real contention.

“When we all got together at the beginning of training camp, that’s the one thing we were talking about was championship and playoffs,” Knicks guard Courtney Lee said. “Now we see where we at and where we got to go. You can look at these losses and just get down on yourself and be negative, but I think it helps us because it shows us if you’re going to talk about something, we’re not at that level right now.”

Thursday’s game was especially eye-opening because the Warriors seemed to be toying around and purposefully trying to get an assist on every bucket. They did it for their first 36 field goals before Ian Clark broke the streak and was jokingly called “selfish” by Steph Curry. Warriors coach Steve Kerr wasn’t happy with the effort that provided his team a double-digit lead for most of the evening.

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It was all representative of the big gap between the Knicks and the two-time defending Western Conference champs.

Derrick Rose has been dealing with a back injury that kept him out of three of the last five games.

Derrick Rose has been dealing with a back injury that kept him out of three of the last five games.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

“We know we’re not at that level yet. Can we get there? Possibly,” Hornacek said. “They are two teams that have played in the Finals and won championships. So it’s hard to compare any teams in the league to those two teams. So you can see what they can do. What their strengths are. …Hopefully we grow over the season and get to points where we can do that against teams.”

Saturday’s game is certainly winnable against a Nuggets team that likes to run and can put up a lot of points. One issue in Denver is always the altitude, which even Hornacek felt after playing a one-on-one with Joakim Noah after practice (Noah won, 3-0).

“First time (I played a one-on-one). And probably the last time,” the coach said. “The altitude got to me.”

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Getting acclimated to the thin air was a reason the Knicks worked on conditioning Friday, according to Anthony, because the Knicks are facing a game that can make or break their road trip.

“A great road trip would’ve been 4-1. We can’t get that now. So 3-2 would be pretty decent,” Hornacek said. “So I think the bigger issue is you never want to lose three in a row. If you can do that and stop losing streaks, maybe during the regular season you can put together a winning streak, you can climb the ladder. So it’s probably more important that we win the game just to end the losing streak.”

Tags:
nba
new york knicks
denver nuggets
carmelo anthony
courtney lee
jeff hornacek

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