The New York Knicks were relieved to see Carmelo Anthony playing like his usual self after he missed some time with an injury. With a sorely depleted frontcourt, they'll likely need Anthony at his best as they continue to pursue the Atlantic Division title.
A home-and-home set against the struggling Toronto Raptors could help their cause, with the first meeting coming in Toronto on Friday night before a rematch in New York on Saturday.
New York (40-26) went 1-2 during a three-game stint without Anthony - sidelined with a knee injury - with its 86.7 points per game during that stretch well below the season average of 98.8. But Anthony returned and scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, helping his club to a 106-94 home win over Orlando on Wednesday.
"It (the knee) felt good for the most part," Anthony told the team's official website. "At the beginning of the game I wanted to try to see if I could do everything movement-wise and it felt pretty good. I was pain free tonight."
Anthony, the league's second-leading scorer at 27.4 points per game, recently had fluid drained from the back of his right knee after it had given him problems in recent weeks.
"I'm glad I went and got that procedure done so I put that behind me now," he said. "Just wish that I could have gotten to the bottom of it quicker or we could've got to the bottom of it quicker."
Anthony's return was especially important because of the litany of injuries already affecting New York's front line. Tyson Chandler is likely to miss a week with a bulging disk, while Amare Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas may miss the remainder of the regular season. Frontcourt play has already been a weakness all season with an average rebounding differential of minus-1.3 and an average of 33.3 points in the paint that ranks last in the NBA.
The attrition essentially forced coach Mike Woodson to use the 6-foot-9 Kenyon Martin as his center, with the recently-signed veteran starting each of the last four games. He's averaging 9.9 points on 60.7 percent shooting with 6.3 rebounds during that stretch.
Toronto (26-42) has lost two in a row and 10 of 14, falling 107-101 at league-worst Charlotte on Wednesday, even with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both breaking out of brief slumps.
DeRozan had averaged 12.8 points on 29.2 percent shooting over the last four games but scored 19 on 7-of-12 shooting against the Bobcats. Lowry, who was averaging 9.0 points while shooting 26.5 percent during his last four contests, had 18. Still, it wasn't enough for the Raptors, whose bench was outscored 52-13, a game after having their reserves outscored 41-16 in a loss to Miami.
Three-point shooting also continues to cost Toronto, which ranks near the bottom of the league at 34.4 percent. The Raptors have been particularly bad over the last four games, going 13 for 65 (20.0 percent).
Toronto has won three straight in the series, including both meetings this season by a combined six points. Rudy Gay matched Anthony's 32 with a season-high 32 points of his own in Toronto's 100-98 victory on Feb. 22.