Carmelo Anthony wants to take the smart route. And the smart route is not rushing back.

So it's possible Anthony will miss a third straight game because of a sprained left ankle tonight when the Knicks entertain the Nets — for the first time as the Brooklyn Nets — at Madison Square Garden.

"The best thing for me, the best thing for the team, the best thing for the organization is to have me healthy at this point," Anthony said after shooting and running at Knicks practice yesterday when his ankle still felt sore and swollen.

"I played through pain. I've played through injury. I've played with injuries. Right now it's about being smart. If it was late in the season, I probably would be singing a different tune.

"Right now it's still early in the season. It's a matter of seeing how I feel, being 100 percent, and not letting anything linger for the rest of the season. I'll see what happens."

Anthony sprained his ankle crashing to the floor last Thursday against the Lakers, injuring his knee and hip as well.

"I never took a fall like that," he said.

The injury comes shortly after he missed a pair of games with a cut finger that needed six stitches, the result of diving in the stands for a loose ball. Anthony noted his finger now is not an issue at all — neither is the hip and knee.

"All that stuff healed," he said. "Right now it's just my ankle. It's not sprained right now. It's badly bruised. There's still some inflammation.

"Of course I want to play. But if I'm not able to go out there and be the player I can be and help my team, then I'm not going to step foot on the court."