The San Antonio Spurs have often breezed past inferior opponents, and they've yet to lose to one. The New York Knicks ending that trend seems unlikely even if Carmelo Anthony is back.
There's a good chance Anthony returns from a three-game absence Thursday night in San Antonio, though the Knicks were blown out by the reigning Western Conference champions earlier this season even when he played.
The league's third-leading scorer hasn't taken the court since spraining his ankle in a win at Orlando on Dec. 23. The Knicks, though, will have had four days off heading into this three-game swing through Texas, and that may have been enough time for Anthony to get close enough to full strength.
"Getting there, feeling a lot better each day," Anthony said after practice Monday.
"... Each day is just trying to do a little bit more. Still some swelling in there, still some tenderness, but eventually I'll have to play with a little bit of tenderness and a little bit of pain here and there."
Anthony might have felt some pain just watching the team while he was out, adding Monday that his team's "effort is definitely not there some days." New York lost all three games by double digits, including a home-and-home sweep over the weekend to Toronto.
Only Milwaukee has fewer wins than the Knicks (9-21).
"This is not how we envisioned it coming into this season, but it is what it is at this point," Anthony said. "We can't be crying about it. We gotta find a solution to it."
They'd be hard-pressed to find one in San Antonio (25-7), especially considering the Spurs rolled to a 120-89 victory at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 10. Anthony played 35 minutes but had a season-low 16 points.
Granted, New York didn't have an injured Tyson Chandler that day, and he's coming off a season-high 16-point performance in Saturday's 115-100 loss in Toronto. However, the Knicks' starting guards from that game will not play Thursday, with Raymond Felton (groin) and Pablo Prigioni (toe) still out and Metta World Peace (ankle) also sidelined.
San Antonio, meanwhile, is at full strength and has not lost to a sub-.500 team all season. In nine games since Thanksgiving against opponents which entered with a losing record, the Spurs have won by an average of 18.6 points.
The latest such victory came Tuesday, 113-92 over Brooklyn as six Spurs scored in double figures and none played more than 28 minutes.
This will be San Antonio's third straight game against a team with no more than 10 wins and comes amid a stretch in which it plays 13 of 16 at home.
"Schedule was crazy the first two months, but we went through it and played pretty well," said Tony Parker, who had a team-high 18 points Tuesday. "Now we have to take advantage, no letdown, and make sure we keep improving on the stuff we need to improve like on defense."
To Parker's point, the Spurs have allowed their last 16 opponents to average 102.6 points after holding the first 16 to 90.4 per game.
"I think our defense we gotta improve," center Tiago Splitter said. "(Coach Gregg Popovich) is talking about that every day."
It's been a big area of concern for the Knicks. They've yielded an average of 104.4 points over the past eight games and have given up a combined 38 3-pointers in the last three.
"We've got to get back to fundamentals in a lot of things," Chandler said. "Defensively, we're not as fundamentally sound as we'd like to be. It's the same thing with offense."