Carmelo Anthony is widely considered to be one of the best players in the NBA, but the difference between him and LeBron James never looked as wide as it did on Sunday, when Carmelo was powerless to stop LeBron from dominating the game on both sides of the ball. On Thursday, he'll get his chance against Kevin Durant, the second-best small forward in the NBA, but only if a sore knee doesn't keep him out of action. The Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Madison Square Garden to play the New York Knicks in a nationally televised TNT game that tips off at 8 p.m. ET.
After dealing with soreness in his knee for several weeks, Carmelo injured himself in an awkward-looking fall during New York's victory over Cleveland on Monday. He missed their game against Detroit on Wednesday and didn't speak to the media afterwards, raising doubts about whether he would be able to play on Thursday. He's currently listed as day-to-day, with no further word on his status for the game against Oklahoma City.
And while Carmelo has always lived in LeBron's shadow since their rookie season in 2003, the far more interesting comparison is with Durant. They're two of the most natural scorers in the NBA, explosive combo forwards too quick for power forwards and too big for small forwards to defend. This season, Carmelo is averaging 28.2 points a game on 44/38/83 shooting while Durant checks in at 28.6 points a night on preposterous 52/41/91 shooting percentages. And while Durant has always been the more efficient scorer, where he's started to separate himself this season is in the other facets of the game, as a passer, rebounder and defensive player.
If Carmelo is unable to play, much of the spotlight in New York will shift to Amar'e Stoudemire, whose turned himself into an efficient offensive machine since returning from a knee injury that cost him the first few months of the season. While Stoudemire isn't quite the above-the-rim force he was in his prime, he's still a very skilled 6'11, 245-pound big man with a knack for scoring, averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds on 59 percent shooting this season. He thrived as the centerpiece of the Knicks offense on Wednesday, with 22 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting. As the playoffs get closer, one of the biggest questions for Mike Woodson will be figuring out how to integrate Amar'e back into the fold and whether he should be returned to the starting line-up.
The Race For Playoff Seeding
Thursday's game has huge playoff implications for both teams. With Tony Parker out for at least a month, Oklahoma City has a chance to get back into the race for the No. 1 seed in the West, where they are currently three games behind San Antonio. New York, meanwhile, is the No. 2 seed out East, but they are only five games ahead of Boston, currently in seventh place. And with so many teams fighting for playoff positioning, the Knicks can scarcely a loss on their home court, even against the Thunder.