‘Melo out as Lin makes return to NYC

Jeremy Lin became a breakout star for the New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony on the bench last season, and now Lin’s highly anticipated return to Madison Square Garden will come under a similar set of circumstances.

Anthony is missing Monday night’s game against Lin and the Houston Rockets with a sprained left ankle, the star forward’s second straight game on the bench after he landed awkwardly on the ankle in the second half of Thursday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Anthony will be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris Copeland, and the rest of the lineup will remain the same, with Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer and Tyson Chandler taking the floor against Houston in Lin’s only visit to the Garden this season.

“If he could play, I’m sure he would have been in uniform tonight,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said of Anthony. “But he couldn’t go, and we’ve just got to move on and Cope’s got to come in and play.”

It’s not the first time Anthony has missed time for the East-leading Knicks (18-5), who are 10-0 at home. Anthony missed two games earlier this season after cutting his left middle finger diving for a loose ball in a road win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 5. New York went 1-1 with Anthony on the bench during that stretch, beating the Miami Heat on the road before losing in Chicago.

Led by Felton (25 points) and Chandler (23 points), New York had five players score in double figures in its win over Cleveland without Anthony on Saturday. Anthony is averaging 27.9 points per game this season, his highest total since the 2009-10 season in Denver.

Woodson said Anthony made the decision not to play against Houston during Monday morning’s film session, despite wanting to face Lin in front of the home crowd. He’ll have another tough decision to make Wednesday, when the Brooklyn Nets visit Madison Square Garden for the first time.

“We’ll evaluate him again tomorrow when we get to practice and see where he is,” Woodson said. “Hopefully, he’ll be ready Wednesday, but we just don’t know at this point. . . . ‘Melo wants to play, and that’s a good thing. But it’s a long season, and I’m not going to waste one game because of who we’re playing.”

Should Anthony’s return to the floor be pushed to Friday’s home meeting with Chicago or Sunday’s game against Minnesota, the last game of a six-game homestand for the Knicks, it may be alongside All-Star big man Amar’e Stoudemire.

Stoudemire has yet to play this season as he recovers from left knee surgery, but Woodson said Stoudemire has been cleared to practice by team doctors, and would begin practicing with the Knicks’ D-League team on Tuesday. If all goes well in practices Tuesday and Thursday, Stoudemire could possibly make his debut this weekend.

“Practices have kind of got to go in his favor,” Woodson said of Stoudemire. “I’m not going to rush him back. He’s got to be ready, and I’m going to lean on him to tell me when he’s ready to go. I just want to make sure he gets out of the practice not hurt. . . . I want to make sure his knee is sound and he’s ready to go.”