The emerging MVP is ready for the battle of MVPs: Carmelo Anthony vs. Kobe Bryant.

Without Anthony, the Knicks would be lost as their weaknesses are being exposed just in time for their visit with Mike D'Antoni, the Ghost of Christmas Past, tomorrow in Los Angeles.

There is no doubt Carmelo will have the Christmas spirit in the nationally televised matchup against Kobe, premier scorer against premier scorer.

"It's a big game,'' an excited Anthony said yesterday after pouring in 33 points, including an amazing 19 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Knicks to a 94-91 come-from-way-behind win over the Timberwolves at the Garden. "It's a big game for us. It's a big game for the league. It's a big game for basketball, period. If we don't get excited for this game then I don't know what game we should get excited for. What better game to be playing, kicking off Christmas against the Lakers.''

The Knicks could use a jolt of Amar'e Stoudemire even for just a few minutes, but Stoudemire is determined to take the most cautious route back from left knee surgery. Stoudemire is not expected to play on the upcoming three-game trip.

The Knicks are undermanned. It is beginning to catch up to them.

The Timberwolves were without Kevin Love (eye injury) and still took the Knicks to the wall, leading by as many as 11 in the second half.

"We had the will to win,'' Anthony said. "We didn't want to look back later in the season and look at this as a game we should have won.''