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Melo casts eyes to MSG rafters amid vintage effort

NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony said last month that his No. 15 jersey should be retired by the Denver Nuggets.

So what about his No. 7 here at Madison Square Garden?

After scoring a season-high 26 points for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 117-93 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, Anthony admitted he thought about it during the game — just his second back at MSG since he was traded away by the Knicks over two years ago.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said with a smile. “You gotta ask them.”

Then he added with a laugh, “I did glance up at the rafters today during the national anthem. You know, they say in life you’ve got to envision, so I was envisioning seeing Anthony hanging up there.”

If it was up to the fans in attendance for the first game here of 2020, there’s little doubt how they would vote.

To say Anthony’s return was slightly different than Kristaps Porzingis coming back to New York in mid-November is an understatement. Unlike that night, which saw Porzingis booed lustily throughout his first game back at MSG since being traded to the Dallas Mavericks last February, Anthony was celebrated like a conquering hero.

Not only was was Anthony not booed, he was celebrated. He was given a rousing ovation after he was introduced last during player introductions. And then, as the game played out, he was cheered every time he touched the ball — and cheered even louder when he scored.

“The love was definitely felt tonight,” Anthony said. “From the fans that were here, just the city as a whole, just being back.

“I think that feeling is kind of hard to explain. But for me to kind of get that ovation, I think I’ve always had the love from the city like that. But to be back in this building where I spent so many years, that love felt extremely good tonight.”

While Anthony managed to turn back the clock with a performance like he had many times during his peak days as a player for the Knicks, finishing with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting.

“I just wanted to come in and be out there and, at the end of the day, just play basketball,” Anthony said. “Of course being back on that court is special.”

But Anthony’s heroics were not enough to prevent Portland from falling into a five-game losing streak — with the game fully slipping away from the Trail Blazers while he sat on the bench.

After Anthony hit back-to-back buckets to force a timeout from interim Knicks coach Mike Miller with the score tied at 65 with 6:08 remaining in the third quarter, Anthony checked out with the Blazers trailing 77-70 with 2:30 left in the quarter.

By the time he checked back in with 9:55 remaining in the fourth, the Knicks’ lead had expanded to 12, and Portland would never come close to getting the win.

“We just got outplayed,” said Blazers star Damian Lillard, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists but shot just 5-for-20 from the field. “Everything they wanted to do, they did it.

“They made shots, they got stops, they got foul calls. Whatever they wanted to do, they did it.”

That was especially true for Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, who tied a franchise record by making all 11 field goal attempts he took during the game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds off the bench as he slammed home several eye-popping, rim-rattling dunks throughout the night to help the Knicks, who opened the season 7-24, win their third straight game.

“Tremendous effort,” Miller said. “I probably can’t come up with the right words for how we pleased we are watching how that game flowed, and how guys played, and how we stayed together.

“We had so many people contribute in so many different ways. That was fun to watch.”

Still, the game’s result played second-fiddle to Anthony coming back to MSG — something that, as he sat out for more than a year between being let go early last season by the Houston Rockets and being signed by Portland, seemed like it may never happen again.

Though, as he has said repeatedly since coming back, Anthony himself didn’t view it that way.

“Like I’ve always said, I’ve believed in myself,” he said. “I always knew what the narrative was. People paint their own narrative. People love stories. People want to talk.

“At the end of the day, I’ve done what I had to do as far as preparing myself mentally with that time off and coming back and believing in myself. I keep saying that, but doing what I have to do, staying strong through that time.

“I don’t think people understand how difficult it was, how hard it was, and the fight that I had within myself to able to be at this point today talking to y’all.”

What wasn’t difficult for Anthony was talking with the media postgame. A smile was ever-present on his face, and he was clearly enjoying getting a chance to be back at MSG for one more night.

It also was an opportunity, beyond the comment about thinking about what it would look like for his jersey to be retired, for him to assess, with the benefit of a couple of years having passed since the trade that sent him away from the Knicks, what his six-plus years with the franchise was like.

When he was asked that postgame, Anthony paused for a moment before answering.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I would say that for the most part I’ve enjoyed it.

“I think being in the city makes a specific type of person, not a basketball player, a specific type of person. For me to embrace that and want that and take that challenge on, I think that’s why I got the love that I got from this city.”

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