Amar'e Stoudemire sparks victory in highly efficient effort
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Injury-prone, overpaid and unmovable.
Two months ago, that's how many Knicks fans viewed Amar'e Stoudemire.
He is a big man who plays an athletic, punishing style of basketball, and many thought it was starting to catch up with him. (Or already had caught up with him.)
While he sat out the first two months of the season recovering from knee surgery, many wondered if he ever would be a big-time player again. Their fears seemed to be confirmed when he returned from injury and coach Mike Woodson decided that the best thing to do with him -- the best thing to do with the fourth-highest-paid player in the NBA -- was to bring him off the bench.
Suddenly, however, it appears to have been a wee bit early to throw Stoudemire into the has-been heap. Since returning from the knee injury on New Year's Day, he has been getting stronger and stronger.
Sunday night's 99-93 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was his best game yet. Despite playing only 21 minutes, 40 seconds, Stoudemire scored a season-high 22 points, grabbed five rebounds and shot 9-for-10.
"I thought Amar'e was solid," Woodson said. "He was catching the ball on the block, he had a couple of offensive putbacks, he made his jump shots. He did a little bit of everything. That's what we're going to need him to do the rest of the way."
It was Stoudemire's first 20-point game of the season and even featured a very athletic reverse dunk that thrilled the Garden crowd.
It may have been his best game, but it wasn't his only important one. Since coming back from the knee injury, Stoudemire has averaged 13.7 points and 5.0 rebounds despite playing limited minutes. And he seems to be getting stronger.
"I'm 100 percent. I feel strong in every aspect," he said after the game. "I think the limited minutes are great for me so far. It's keeping me fresh and I feel great."
With performances like that, there is going to be a push from fans to see more minutes from Stoudemire. With guard Jason Kidd struggling, there are many who think Woodson needs to shake up the starting lineup.
Stoudemire was careful and diplomatic Sunday, however, when asked if it is hard for him to accept his role as a reserve when he is playing this well. He said he wants to do whatever the team needs him to do.
Stoudemire did admit, however, that it is difficult to be on the bench at the end of games.
"As long as we're winning, it's not hard," he said. "When we start losing a bit, it gets you thinking about it."
He's not the only one.