Amar'e Stoudemire went from being a spectator down the stretch of last Sunday's loss to the Heat to a player who is finishing games. Some would say it's long overdue.
Not having Carmelo Anthony for all of the last two games and part of Monday's game has increased Stoudemire's importance and changed his role. But you can make a case that Stoudemire should have been finishing games and been a focal point of the offense even before Anthony's right knee injury cropped up on the Knicks' recent trip.
"I'm comfortable with whatever situation it is," Stoudemire said. "I'll make the best of it, always be ready to play. That's just how it is."
Anthony missed his second straight game Thursday night when the Knicks faced Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mike Woodson said Anthony is day-to-day. This should mean more chances for Stoudemire to lead the Knicks, provided his surgically repaired knee holds up to the extra work and additional minutes.
Anthony left Monday's game in Cleveland in the first half and didn't play Wednesday at Detroit. In both games, Stoudemire started the second half and carried the Knicks offensively, helping them to two wins by scoring 22 points in each game.
Anthony eventually will be back, and Woodson will have to figure out how to play him and Stoudemire together and make it work. That has been the major question and quandary since the two perennial All-Stars were brought together in February 2011.
Former coach Mike D'Antoni couldn't get them to coexist in his pick-and-roll offense, but Woodson said he could make it work with Stoudemire and Anthony. They were 8-2 last year and are 15-11 this season when both play.
Woodson stressed that Stoudemire learn and develop a post game so he could play with Anthony, who is one of the best in the league in isolation plays.
Stoudemire did that, spending a couple of weeks over the summer training with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. But then Stoudemire suffered a left knee injury in camp that required surgery and sidelined him for the first 30 games.
With Stoudemire unavailable, Anthony and the Knicks took off, winning 18 of their first 23 games. They were 21-9 when Stoudemire returned on New Year's Day.
Since his return, he's become a bench player and has performed well against opposing team's second-tier players as well as starters.
"I'm very comfortable and confident in my offensive game now," Stoudemire said. "I put in so much work in the offseason and also during the year, practice and shootarounds, where I practice my craft. It's becoming pretty easy for me."
Stoudemire entered Thursday night averaging 14.2 points in 23.3 minutes and hitting 59.4 percent of his shots. In his previous seven games, he averaged 16.9 points and made 71 percent of his attempts (49-for-69).
The Knicks say Stoudemire is on a 30-minute limit, but in the previous two games, he went over that slightly, playing 31:55 at Cleveland and 30:39 against Detroit. Woodson said he will continue to keep it in that range and that Stoudemire's minutes have to be monitored in back-to-backs. But he also said they could go up later in the season.
"As we go up this road, maybe his minutes will increase maybe as we get closer to the playoffs or get in a playoff series," Woodson said. "That's why his minutes have got to be restricted. That reason alone.
"When you're playing back-to-back and four games in five [nights], you can't play him 30- plus minutes. You just can't do it. I'll be looking a month from now and him sitting next to me. I don't think that's the smart thing to do."