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Carmelo Anthony has his legacy in his hands in New York

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Carmelo Anthony gets mentioned as one of the game’s elite scorers. As he should. Few players can average 25 points a season consistently. Few players in the league can fill it up — from anywhere on the court, creating their own shot — like Anthony. He doesn’t do it terribly efficiently (his shooting percentage is about the league average), but he puts up the numbers. He is an elite scorer.

But elite leader? Guy who makes his team better? Guy who can lead his team to a title?

No. Not yet anyway. Carmelo Anthony is not considered in the same strata with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and even LeBron James (who has taken a team with questionable talent around him to the finals).

If Anthony wants to be in that group, he’ll have to prove it in New York. By winning. And not just 60 regular season games, but by winning when it matters in the playoffs. By leading a team that in a couple years can beat the Heat and Bulls. By leading a true title contender.

What happens with the Knicks in the next three years will be how we remember Anthony after his career. Will it be as an elite scorer, or as a winner?

Anthony has always put up a fight in New York — remember the Dec.16, 2006 fight where he (and the other 9 players on the floor at the time) but tossed for a brawl? Even the crowd was fighting that night. He’s going to need that kind of fight now, much of it to push and pull his teammates up to contender status.

Some things are beyond Anthony’s control. The roster around him and Amar’e Stoudemire is not ready to contend — the Knicks just shipped out their best role players to get Anthony. They are going to need a center who can defend the paint. They need depth everywhere. They need a point guard who can run Mike D’Antoni’s system (Chauncey Billups at age 34 is a more efficient point guard than Raymond Felton was, but how a guy who thrives walking the ball up into halfcourt sets does with the Knicks system remains to be seen).

A lot of what will be around him — and the ability to bring in Chris Paul or Deron Williams to really run the show — will be decided in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nobody knows what that is going to look like. It could be so restrictive as to make it hard to put much of a team together. While that will be true of the Knicks it will be true of other teams as well. The Knicks problem is that the Heat and Bulls (and Celtics for this season and next) got a jump on it and have more complete rosters already. The Knicks will be playing catch up under different rules.

This season, the Knicks may (if they get lucky) climb all the way up to the fifth seed (they are 5.5 games behind the Hawks, but Atlanta has one of the toughest schedules in the league the rest of the way).

But next season, and for a couple seasons after that, the expectations for the Knicks will be ridiculous. Fans will expect a contender, whether or not it is warranted.

It’s going to fall to Carmelo Anthony (and Amar’e Stoudemire) to lead them there. To push them and, if necessary, drag them there. That is what elite players do — they make teams better than just the sum of their parts. They lead, by example and in the locker room. They make their teams contenders by play and by force of will.

If Anthony wants that to be his legacy, he will have to prove it in New York. On the league’s biggest stage.

Whatever happens, that will be his legacy.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.