By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Earl "The Pearl" Monroe feels the New York Knicks finally have the floor leader they needed in Jeremy Lin, and from his unique perspective predicts high-scoring Carmelo Anthony will have no trouble fitting in when he returns from injury.
"He's scored a lot of points, has a lot of assists, but more so than anything else, he's given the team a real leader," Monroe, 67, said before New York beat Sacramento on Wednesday for their seventh consecutive win since Lin took charge.
"That's the real thing that they had been lacking so far in this season."
Lin rocked the NBA world with a sensational run that was made possible because of a rash of injuries, including the groin strain that has sidelined five-times All-Star Anthony.
After being cut by two teams this season and languishing on New York's bench, Lin seized his opportunity with a stunning string of games that made him the league's most prolific scorer in 35 years through his first five starts - eclipsing former NBA MVPs Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan.
"I'm kind of amazed, happily amazed, to see a guy, really an underdog, come out and show that he can play," said Monroe, who is promoting a campaign to add diabetes-friendly menu items in U.S. restaurants. "There's no real miracles in this game, but this is one that's close."
The winning streak lifted the Knicks to 15-15, but some experts wonder whether the new team chemistry will change with the imminent return of Anthony, who tends to hold the ball and put points up with his one-on-one prowess.
Monroe, who joined a well-established Knicks team in 1971 after dazzling the NBA with his scoring wizardry with the Baltimore Bullets, was not concerned.
"Carmelo can go get his stats," Monroe said. "He can put the ball on the floor, he can go to the basket or pull up and shoot a jump shot. I don't think it's going to be that big of an adjustment. The big thing is how the shots are distributed.
"Having one guy controlling the ball and getting it to guys in the places where they can do things with it, I think it minimizes all those kind of things."
Monroe said taking in the 'Linsanity' from the bench would help Anthony blend into the new-look attack.
"The good thing is that he's been on the sidelines watching this. As a good ball player, he knows what he needs to do. He knows that it's a winning formula out there," said Monroe.
"You don't want to rock the boat but you know what your talents are and his talents are being able to finish. He'll be able to finish games for you and for certain times can put you on his back. In the meantime, just let things roll. As the game goes, you'll be able to get yours."
Monroe said it was a little different for him working into a Knicks group that had won an NBA ring three seasons earlier.
"You're used to taking over certain points of the game," he said. "When I came to the Knicks I had to kind of curtail that and see where I fit in.
"I had to kind of pull back, and try and visualize the game," he said, foreshadowing Anthony's challenge, before adding, "It was a lot different in terms of the kind of team I came over to which already had four or five Hall of Fame players on it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)