At a time when the Knicks could use any sort of positive reinforcement, their schedule provided them the ideal opponent. Enter the winless Philadelphia 76ers on the second night of a back-to-back. Talk about fortuitous timing.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points and shot 10-for-20, Amar'e Stoudemire had 16 points and 11 rebounds and the 76ers were every bit as rough around the edges as advertised.
With point guard Jose Calderon making his season debut, the Knicks earned a 91-83 victory Saturday night at the Garden, only their second win in their last 11 games. The 76ers, who tied the league record with 26 straight losses last season, are 0-13.
Before the game, Knicks coach Derek Fisher stressed the importance of not assuming anything, even though the Knicks were facing the league's worst team. "We're not playing their record," he said. "We have to play the team that shows up when the game starts."
Fortunately for the Knicks, the 76ers struggled on both ends of the court, but they cut the Knicks' 21-point lead to 85-77 with 1:59 left on Robert Covington's third of four fourth-quarter three-pointers.
But Anthony answered with baskets on the next two Knicks possessions, sealing the victory.
Fisher gave the Knicks a pass for letting the big lead dwindle late, saying, "It's hard for players to play in games with a big lead in terms of keeping that sense of urgency."
The 76ers, clearly mortgaging the present-day team in hopes of building a winner for years to come, came to the Garden with a roster of mostly rookies and second-year players.
"I knew most of them," Anthony said. "When Covington came in at the end, I was looking at the sideline, saying, 'Is he a shooter? How should we guard him?' They said put a hand up. Then he came out and hit four threes in a row.
"I think with rosters like that, man, you just need to go with your guns and play defense, play with your schemes, just effort and energy and see what happens."
One name the Knicks were happy to recite Saturday night was their own point guard, Calderon, back in the lineup after missing five weeks with a strained calf. Fisher was excited, describing him as "a guy that bonds people together" because of his "selfless" play.
Acquired from the Mavericks in an offseason deal involving Tyson Chandler, Calderon was viewed as an integral piece to installing the triangle offense this season. But when he hurt his calf late in the preseason, the Knicks were left to rely on inexperienced Shane Larkin and aging Pablo Prigioni.
With Calderon back on the court for the first time in 14 games, the Knicks looked more energized and fluid at the start. He hit a three-pointer and had an assist, a steal and a rebound as the Knicks built a 14-8 lead before he exited with 4:54 remaining in the first quarter.
But that's about all he did in his first game as a Knick. Calderon played only five minutes in the second half -- none in the fourth quarter -- and finished with three points, three rebounds and three assists in 21:03. Instead, Fisher went with Prigioni in the fourth.
"You could tell he was easing his way into really being aggressive out there," Fisher said, adding that he didn't want to play Calderon much more than 20 minutes in his first game.
Said Calderon, "Some rustiness out there, as expected, but it's all good."