Improving Amar'e Stoudemire a big positive for Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire reacts after scoring during a game

Amar'e Stoudemire reacts after scoring during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. (Feb. 1, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

The Heat made sure Mike Woodson won't coach the East All-Star team. But the Knicks and Heat could compete for bigger things later.

Miami's win over Toronto Sunday made the Heat's Erik Spoelstra the East All-Star coach. Had the defending champs lost, Woodson would have been headed to Houston for the Feb. 17 game.

Woodson said it would have been "a great achievement for me," but he has his sights on coaching in bigger events than the All-Star Game. He believes the Knicks are a legitimate championship contender.

"I'm very pleased where we are as a ballclub," Woodson said. "I honestly thought when we assembled this team, we could put ourselves in position to win our division and be at the top in the East. There was no doubt in my mind in terms of if we stayed healthy, we would give ourselves a legitimate shot to compete."

Despite not having their top 10 players for even one game, the Knicks are 30-15 and have been at or near the top of the conference all season. And they're getting healthier, deeper and better, especially with Amar'e Stoudemire becoming a force off the bench and in the post.

Stoudemire was 10-for-10 and scored 21 points in Saturday's 39-point rout of the Kings. It was his second perfect night in three games; he shot 7-for-7 in Wednesday's win over Orlando.

"Players are having a hard time figuring out how to play me in the post," Stoudemire said. "There are a few moves that they can't guard, so that allows me to have easy baskets."

During the Knicks' four-game winning streak -- which they can extend to five Monday night against the Pistons at the Garden -- Stoudemire has been incredibly productive and efficient. He's averaging 17.5 points in 23.8 minutes and shooting 77.8 percent (28-for-36).

Stoudemire's presence, along with the return of Raymond Felton five games ago, has alleviated some pressure on Carmelo Anthony to score all the time.

Anthony believes Stoudemire will start drawing some double-teams, which will open up the floor and should make the game easier for the rest of the Knicks.

"What he's been able to do down there in the post so far, I think teams are going to start looking at [doubling] a lot more," Anthony said. "Right now, teams just seem like they are just playing him one-on-one. I'm pretty sure he's licking his chops by seeing that. I know I would be. I'd be glad when I don't see a double- team. We're going to him. He's one of our guys we go to when he gets in the game, and we take advantage of it."

Suddenly, no one is wondering about Stoudemire and Anthony coexisting. When both are in the lineup, the Knicks are 9-5 this season and 17-7 since Woodson took over last season.

The questions have turned to why Anthony and Stoudemire aren't playing together more. It's something Woodson said he would do, but it's clear he doesn't plan to start Stoudemire now, if at all.

"You guys seem to be worried about the starting lineup," Woodson said. "I'm not real worried about that. I'm really not. We're winning the way we are right now. I don't see anything wrong with that. I really don't."

The Knicks have won 30 games before the All-Star break for the first time since 1996-97, including two victories over the Heat.

"I've said all along there is not a team we can't beat in this league if we come committed to play for 48 minutes," Woodson said. "I think we've proven that. But we've also proven we can be beat if we're not committed. I'm very excited about how we've played thus far. We've just got to continue the pace."

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