While Carmelo Anthony has emerged as an MVP candidate, Raymond Felton is in many ways just as important to the New York Knicks.
Felton is expected to return Saturday night from a 12-game absence when the Knicks visit the Philadelphia 76ers.
New York (26-14) has split the 12 games without Felton, who has been out with a broken right pinky finger. The Knicks are 3-4 this season without Anthony, who is shooting 41.4 percent in Felton's absence after connecting at 47.3 before the point guard got hurt.
"I think when we get Raymond back, our shooters will shoot more in the flow and in the offense," center Tyson Chandler said. "Right now, 'Melo is commanding a double-team and he is kicking out, he's trying to find shooters but our spacing is not what it should be right now."
Chandler seems to be correct. New York shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers before Felton's injury, and 35.7 since.
"Raymond's a big piece of what we do," coach Mike Woodson said.
Felton's impact was obvious in November when the Knicks shot 40.7 percent on 3s and made 24 overall in beating the 76ers (17-25) by an average of 19.0 points in two victories.
The Knicks have won three of four after Thursday's 89-86 victory at Boston. Anthony played his first game in a visiting arena since his suspension for trying to confront the Celtics' Kevin Garnett earlier this month, and the New York star came through with 28 points in a defensive battle.
"I was just locking in from a basketball standpoint, try not to even worry about the crowd, being on the road and things like that," Anthony said. "It was just a matter of doing what I had to do, doing what we had to do."
Felton could be matched up with first-time All-Star Jrue Holiday, averaging team highs of 19.0 points and 9.0 assists for the 76ers.
Holiday, however, saw his streak of scoring in double digits end at 24 games Tuesday as he scored nine in a 110-102 loss at Milwaukee. Evan Turner led three other Sixers with at least 20 points as he scored 23.
Philadelphia has dropped eight of 10 and sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are opening a season-high, eight-game homestand.
"Somehow we have to figure it out, come together and stay together as a team," forward Thaddeus Young said. "We know what the problem is. We've been in every game so far and fought back."
Holiday will be joined on the East All-Star team by Anthony and Chandler, who will make his first appearance.
Chandler figures to get tested Saturday by reserve center Spencer Hawes, who had 21 points and 12 boards against the Bucks. Hawes is shooting 58.0 percent and averaging 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in his last eight.
"Spencer's been great," coach Doug Collins said. "I'm very, very happy with him. He's playing not only with confidence, he's running the floor well."
New York has won six of seven overall in this series and taken five of the last six matchups in Philadelphia.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved