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No MCW, no Grant, but 'Melo leads Knicks past 76ers at Carrier Dome

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There’s a not-so-secret truth about NBA exhibition games: They’re pretty lame. Star players are regularly held out, teams (and players) are worried about injuries, and the play can be pretty sloppy at times. Case in point: Tuesday night’s New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers extravaganza at the Carrier Dome.

Rich Barnes
When this preseason contest was announced in August, it was supposed to feature a matchup of former Syracuse Orange greats. On one hand you have Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, hero of SU’s 2003 National Championship, jersey in the rafters honoree, and fancy practice facility namesake. On the other you have two more recent SU alums, reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and professional jumping jack Jerami Grant.

But shoulders and ankles have a way of impeding even the best-laid plans.

Unfortunately, MCW (very upper body injury) and Grant (the lowest of lower body injuries) were both unable to play, which was kind of a bummer because they’re pretty much the entire reason the Sixers were involved in this game in the first place.

In fact, Philadelphia was technically the home team and wore home whites, which I think was just the franchise’s way to rub it in our faces that the Syracuse Nationals were stolen from us more than 50 years ago. Not that I’m bitter about something that happened 13 years before I was born. Jerks.

MCW and Grant took the floor before the game and spoke to the crowd, thanking them for coming out and showing their support. I say “spoke to the crowd” very loosely, because I think the two uttered about three sentences between them. They were both also featured in soundbites played on the Dome video screens, which were about as thrilling as you’d expect.

The sparse Dome crowd did give ‘Melo a very warm welcome, showering him with a standing ovation when his name was announced in the starting lineup. He received similarly enthusiastic responses when he reentered the game or made a nice play, the crowd showing him a lot of well-earned love and respect for bringing a national title to Syracuse more than 11 years ago.

Anyway, the game was a typical NBA exhibition. Both teams held out one or two of their key players, both started something slightly resembling their expected opening night lineups, and both devolved into glorified summer league squads by the fourth quarter. Since the Sixers are generally considered to be the worst team in the league, and perhaps one of the worst of all-time, that’s saying a lot.

By the way, the attendance was announced at 11,259. If you believe that, I have some swamp land in Cicero that I want to sell you. I hadn't seen a crowd that small for a basketball game at the Carrier Dome since the 1997 NIT, which may have been the most painful game to watch in Dome history. It looked as if 20,000 fans came dressed as silver bleachers for Halloween.

‘Melo did his ‘Melo thing, putting up 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in a brisk 27 minutes. And by the way, he is a really, really big dude. It’s pretty amazing to see these guys up close. The amount of quickness and leaping ability they possess, coupled with how big they are, is frightening to see. It’s like they aren’t even the same species as the rest of us. If you think Division I college players are large men, NBA players are on an entirely different level.

After the game, 'Melo spoke to the media about coming back to Syracuse. He said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the team flew in Tuesday, so he didn't have much of an opportunity to visit campus or the practice facility that bears his name. He said he talked to the Knicks coaches about playing time tonight, and ..."anytime I can play here, I'm looking to do it."

Anthony added the issue about his grades that Jim Boeheim brought up in his book was "years ago," and it "isn't really something I lose sleep about."

I also got a chance to see what could have been for SU when Philly’s Nerlens Noel took the floor, and to the Dome crowd’s credit they remembered his choice of college and gave him a few boos during pregame introductions. Sixers center Henry Sims also took a little heat from the fans, because #GeorgetownStillSucks.

On a personal note, I saw Knicks analyst Walt “Clyde” Frazier in the press room, and it was pretty much as awesome as I wanted it to be. I am now officially disappointed that I’m not old enough to remember the 70s, because apparently I missed a great time.

On the injury front, MCW is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and has been working out but hasn’t played yet this preseason. The Sixers have not offered a time frame for his return. Grant injured his ankle in training camp and it is also unknown when he will be ready to return to the lineup.

New York opens the 2014-15 NBA campaign at home vs. Chicago on October 29, and Philadelphia starts the season at Indiana on the same night.