NEW YORK — A new moniker for a changed man.
That’s what the Knicks could have on their hands with Melo.
Every time Carmelo Anthony scored any of his game-high 30 points in the Knicks’ 104-84 rout of the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on opening night at Madison Square Garden, the public address announcer simply referred to him by one name.
Apparently, he is no longer Carmelo Anthony.
“They switched it up,” Anthony , who addressed the crowd in the wake of Hurricane Sandy before the game, said by his locker after the Knicks blitzed the Heat by making 19-of-36 3-pointers. “That was something that was new. New York always got something new up under they sleeve, so I guess we’ll stick with it. I’ll guess now we’ll go to the one name, Melo, so we’ll see.”
While his Class of 2003 NBA Draft-mates LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all own NBA rings, Carmelo Anthony never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons in the league.
But Melo might.
Ask his teammates and they can confirm that he’s a new man.
“He’s changed,” said Tyson Chandler, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field with eight rebounds. “He’s getting there early, putting up shots afterwards. He’s pulling guys to the side. He’s been a great teammate and he wants to win and I think his summer experience [winning the Olympics alongside James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant] helped him.”
On a night when New York needed to be cheered up for a few hours, Anthony addressed the Garden crowd before the game.
“We want to thank everybody that came out tonight and showed their support,” Anthony told the fans. “We know that there are a lot of lives that have been impacted by the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy. This is the most important time for the city of New York to come together as one and help rebuild the city back up.”
Anthony’s words came just a couple of hours after Mayor Bloomberg finally relented under intense pressure — including a rant from radio host Mike Francesa — and opted to cancel Sunday’s New York Marathon.
Why does it always take a public shaming for the powers that be to make the right decision?
“It was kind of up and down over the last couple days,” Anthony said. “We didn’t even know if this game was going to be played. And then before the game we look up and they say they cancelled the marathon so it’s like we have to go out there and play. So today was something to give New York a couple hours of peace, to come to the game, support us.
“We gave them a good show out there tonight and that’s the least that we could do.”
Wade went out on a limb before the game and said it shouldn’t be played. He offered to donate his game pay — roughly $210,00 before taxes — to charity.
“It’s my favorite place to play,” Wade told USA TODAY Sports of the Garden. “But just knowing a lot of people here and knowing what they’ve been going through with no power, no water, no food … to me, it just seems like there’s bigger things to be concerned about than a basketball game.”
Ray Allen figured once the Heat were in town and ready to play the game, they might as well do it in the hopes that it might uplift some of those most affected by Sandy.
“I believe once tipoff comes people will be excited because this gives people a distraction,” Allen said before the game. “You have an opportunity to be entertained so you come and you forget some of what you’ve been dealing with over the last week.
“It would be great to get families devastated by this at the game tonight or in games within the next few weeks following because you always need a great distraction whenever you’re going through any type of tragedy.”
Anthony and his teammates gave the Knicks fans that distraction early.
They raced out to a 17-6 lead and led by as many as 18 points in the first quarter before ending up with a 20-point blowout.
Defensively, the Knicks forced the Heat into 21 turnovers and held a team that scored 120 points in a rout of the Celtics to under 20 points in two quarters.
“On defense everybody trusted one another and we got it going tonight,” Anthony said.
Despite the huge blowout, Anthony wasn’t prepared to call it a statement game.
“For us it was just a game on the schedule we had to come out there and play,” he said. “We was hyped up about playing this game here on our home court, our season opener against the defending champs.
“So what better way to start the season off?”
Asked about Chandler’s comment that he has “changed” after winning Olympic gold and vowing to trust his teammates more, Anthony said: “I just feel super-focused right now. At the end of the day, I know what I have on this team. I gotta believe in the guys that’s on this team and them guys believe in me. They seen all the work that I put in in the offseason, all the work that I put in in practice now, so I’m totally just focused in on basketball at this point.”
On this night, Carmelo Anthony may have taken his first step toward evolving into a new man.
We won’t know for sure until this 82-game season unfolds, until Amar’e Stoudemire returns from his knee injury and he and Anthony are forced once again to co-exist.
And ultimately, we won’t know if this is a changed man until the playoffs roll around and Anthony proves he can get his team deep into the postseason.
But this certainly was a good start for the man they’re now calling Melo.
**For more Video, Notes and Quotes on the game, read by NBA.com Noteook here.
Photo: New York Times