NEW YORK – Carmelo Anthony takes boxing lessons in the offseason to get in shape. This summer, he might want to consider wrestling lessons.
After moving up in class from small forward to power forward this season, Anthony finds himself locked in a physical battle with Indiana Pacers forward David West in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And Round 1 didn't go so well for 'Melo. With West using both his strength and guile, Anthony needed 28 shots to score 27 points as the New York Knicks lost 102-95 to the Pacers in the second-round series opener.
"They outplayed us today and stole one on our home court," Anthony said after missing 18 of 28 shots in a foul-plagued performance. "We will go back tomorrow and make the adjustment for Tuesday's game."
The big question Anthony and the Knicks must answer before Game 2: Should he spend most of his minutes at small forward?
Anthony has played the majority of his 11-year NBA career at the position, but at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, he is bigger than the majority of small forwards. He has moved over to power forward for much of this season to help the Knicks compensate for the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire, who has been sidelined with a knee injury.
Anthony also has frequently played power forward with USA Basketball. His size, quickness and overall skill set has given him an advantage on many nights, but West poses a different problem. He is at least 15 pounds heavier than Anthony and quicker than he appears. Anthony also has been bothered by a shoulder injury he aggravated in the first round against the Boston Celtics.
Through the first three quarters against West, Anthony missed 11 of 17 shots, had zero free-throw attempts and picked up four fouls in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, West had a team-high 16 points through three quarters on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and four made free throws. Anthony had to go to the bench with a little more than four minutes left in the third after drawing his fourth foul. The Pacers took a commanding lead into the fourth quarter as the Madison Square Garden crowd booed the Knicks. "I didn't want to risk leaving him in the third quarter and him picking up five," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said of Anthony.
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West purposely stayed near the basket on offense and kept a body on Anthony on defense to initiate contact and bait Anthony into fouling. Anthony also had to contend with the Pacers' 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert when he did get some room from West.
"I just know that [Anthony] is not going to be as willing to foul or be as aggressive as he needs to because they need him offensively," West said after finishing with 20 points and four rebounds.
"Obviously, they will play some lineups where they play two bigs, which is what we are accustomed to. Their strength is to play small, but we are not going to adjust to them in that regard."
Anthony scored six quick points in the fourth quarter to bring the Knicks back into the game, but then picked up his fifth foul with 10:11 left. He stayed in the game and scored 15 points in the final quarter, but it was too little, too late.
"Foul trouble kind of put a little dent in the game plan today," Anthony said. "I tried not to let that get to me."
Knicks reserve power forward Kenyon Martin is aware of the physicality that Anthony was dealing with because of his own countless battles with West over the years.
"He shouldn't have to wrestle with David West," Martin said. "West is a natural [power forward] in this league. He's a big. 'Mel's natural position is [small forward]. We all know that. So he wouldn't have to go down there and battle, and we wouldn't have to double-team as soon as David West gets the ball in the post. That would eliminate that if we go big on them."
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Anthony and the Knicks also could get some help by the end of the week. Stoudemire, who hasn't played since having knee surgery on March 11, could play in Game 3 on Saturday in Indiana if his knee responds well in scrimmages on Thursday and Friday. Stoudemire averaged 14.2 points and five rebounds this season. What he'll be able to provide upon his return is anyone's guess, but the Knicks could certainly use another big body in this series.
"It can give us some more size and let us change the lineup a little bit," Martin said. "Maybe start me, or start him – I don't know how it could go. But just having him out there would be a big help."
Until then, Anthony probably has at least one more game to deal with the Pacers' big men.
"They're a bigger team," Anthony said. "…I don't want to panic or overanalyze that situation. We will make our adjustments."
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