View Photo Gallery: Carmelo Anthony stepped up in a big way for the short-handed Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony’s return to the New York Knicks lineup coincided with the team’s post-Linsanity swoon — making him a convenient scapegoat.

But with Jeremy Lin sidelined and Amar’e Stoudemire out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his back, New York’s playoff hopes may very well rest in the hands of its highest-paid player.

On Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, Anthony showed that — at least for one night — he can carry the Knicks when they need him most.

Anthony scored 28 points — his highest total in two months — to lead the Knicks past the Bucks 89-80 and give them a 2 1/2-game lead for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.

“Tonight it was a game we had to win,” Anthony said. “And I wanted to do everything in my power to do it.”

With Lin, Anthony and Stoudemire in the lineup together, the Knicks were just 8-9, including a six-game losing streak to start the month. But with Monday’s win, New York has won seven of eight heading into a key eight-game stretch that includes home-and-homes with the Bulls and Magic.

Anthony’s 28-point night was his biggest since Jan. 20, when he scored 35 in a loss to the Bucks.

“I’ve just got to step my game up,” Anthony said. “We’ve been winning. As far as scoring the basketball, we really haven’t been needing that. It’s been pretty much spread out but now with them two guys, there ain’t no telling what’s the situation with them. So it’s just time for me to step my game up in all aspects.”

The Knicks found out Monday that their star center will be out indefinitely when an MRI revealed his bulging back disk. Stoudemire does not need surgery and will be treated with rehabilitation, but there is no timetable for his return.

Meantime, Lin is dealing with a sore right knee. He is considered day to day and is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Magic. And so is Anthony, who strained his groin during Monday’s game.

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