Things have changed. Since then, the Knicks have gone cold.
The Knicks wound up splitting the season series with their inferior crosstown rivals, the Nets. They lost two to Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets, badly, and another to the 16-26 soon-to-be Seattle SuperSonics.
A runaway in the standings has turned into literally an eight-team race. You can’t count out the Celtics, currently in the eighth slot but just 5.5 games behind the Knicks with three head-to-heads left.
The Knicks desperately cling to the second seed, with the Pacers just a half-game behind, the Nets a game away and the Bulls just two with Derrick Rose right around the corner.
During the same time, Anthony has fallen in the NBA’s MVP Ladder rankings. The competition is fierce. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul rank higher, and rightfully so—all are statistically equal to or ahead of Anthony and steering stronger division leaders.
So does Carmelo Anthony still have a realistic shot at MVP?
Ironically, more than ever. In fact, here's his chance.
While it is often cited that an MVP single-handedly makes a lopsided positive impact on his team, taking it to the next level, he almost never does it alone.
Jordan had Pippen. Magic had Kareem. Malone had Stockton. The list goes on.
James has Wade and Bosh. Durant has Westbrook. Paul has Griffin.
Carmelo Anthony has…Tyson Chandler? Amar’e Stoudemire? Raymond Felton? J.R. Smith? None of these pairs have the same ring. Maybe Chandler, who is having the best offensive season of his career right now.
But Anthony is kind of doing it alone, comparatively, and this should be considered in his favor.
Lately, too, he and the Knicks have been missing the team’s two biggest offseason acquisitions—Raymond Felton and Rasheed Wallace, who helped carry the team to where it was early on.
And while Carmelo’s poor shooting nights against the Celtics and Nets are being highly publicized, the fact is he has upped his game and is doing all he can to prop up the Knicks.
Anthony’s field goal percentage is the same over his first 16 and last 16 games played (a very solid 46 percent). He’s averaging five points more a game in his last 16 games (32 to 27)—and he’s got slightly more assists and steals, too. What more can he do?
Rebounding, for one thing. Anthony’s, and the rest of the Knicks’, board play is woeful. The Knicks rank 27th in the league and Anthony is averaging two less a game over his last 16.
It would help, too, if he wrested the final shot from J.R. Smith's hands.
Outside of that, though, Anthony is having a career season, currently separated from the scoring title by a decimal.
Also, while the Knicks have to keep a keener eye on those teams in the rear-view mirror, they are still breathing down the Miami Heat’s necks—just 1.5 games behind a team they’ve dominated so far.
And that’s the catch.
Sure, with the Knicks competitive and considerably improved over last year, Anthony, of course will be a logical candidate for MVP and he will garner probably the most votes of his career.
But for him to win it, history dictates the Knicks have to take the top seed. It’s nice to dream of career seasons and statistical dominance, but the MVP almost never goes to a player on a team that didn’t win its conference, at least in the last 30 years.
In that time, only six MVPs came from worse-seeded squads: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and LeBron James.
Anthony might be able to keep some of that company, but an East title will help.
What also might help in the East is voter fatigue. Is LeBron worthy of a fourth MVP? Even Jordan, the greatest to play the game, had a little bit of fatigue going against him (Malone in 1996-97?).
But then there’s the West. And Kevin Durant and Chris Paul—both players who have been paying their dues for a few years—are holding the cards.
However, if Anthony can turn a slumping Knicks team back to its early season prominence, best seed or not, he has to be considered a top candidate.
Deliver that No. 1 and arguably he’ll deserve the MVP more than anyone in either conference.
All stats are accurate as of Jan. 21, 2012.