If there ever was a night the Knicks would have liked for Amar'e Stoudemire to at least momentarily show a glimpse of his old self, this was it.
The cringe-worthy knee injury that Tyson Chandler suffered in the first quarter Tuesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats meant the Knicks had a gaping hole in the middle of the paint.
Enter Stoudemire? Not quite.
This was his predetermined night to play, according to his timeshare schedule with fellow backup big man Kenyon Martin. But Stoudemire struggled to find any type of rhythm on either end and proved to be too careless with the basketball.
It got so bad for the onetime face of the Knicks franchise that when he received the ball in the post early in the fourth quarter, fans immediately booed. That Stoudemire responded with a spin move on the baseline and a two-handed dunk was little solace.
A few minutes later, the Knicks took out Stoudemire -- and the fans cheered his replacement. In 11 minutes, Stoudemire had two points, three rebounds and five turnovers.
"Sure I sense his frustration because I know he wants to be out there and he wants to play big minutes," coach Mike Woodson said, "but we can't play him big minutes."
Three knee surgeries in the last 12 months appear to have taken a hefty toll on Stoudemire, robbing him at least temporarily of the explosiveness and athleticism that made him worthy of a five-year, $100-million contract.
And it's all happened so fast to a player whose nickname -- STAT -- even is a testament to his ability to fill up the statsheet with positive numbers. But that's not the case right now.
"I'm just so anxious," Stoudemire said. "I'm my toughest critic. I want to perform at a high level as soon as I can. But the coaching staff tells me, 'Amar'e, this is your training camp, this is your preseason, so take it easy.' "
Stoudemire entered the offseason talking about coming back this season as a starter, but after another knee operation in the summer the Knicks clearly would be happy if only he could remain healthy all season and provide meaningful minutes every other game.
Stoudemire insists he feels stronger physically than he did a year ago, though the early returns haven't been promising.
Against the Bulls last week he scored five points but had three turnovers and four fouls in only 11 minutes. And Tuesday night in a three-minute span midway through the second half he turned the ball over three times and picked up a technical foul.
Stoudemire says he's had a hard time finding a rhythm playing only 10 minutes a game, but he knows he has no choice. He said the minute restriction is expected to last at least a month. By then he hopes to be looking more like his old self.
"It takes time," he said. "I just got to be patient with my game and know that it will come soon."