For a while there, it was almost as if the mere presence of Amar'e Stoudemire on the court epitomized the Knicks' season-long woes. No matter what good he may have done on a given night, the result almost always was the same: a Knicks loss.
Of the 15 games in which Stoudemire was cleared to play from Jan. 14 through March 3, the Knicks lost 14 of them. When he didn't play, the Knicks went 5-4. To call that trend frustrating for the proud forward might not be strong enough.
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Yet Stoudemire has since managed to turn back the clock to his healthier days. In doing so, he has helped jump-start the Knicks' seven-game winning streak by playing the role of Robin to Carmelo Anthony's Batman, which once was the long-term plan.
Stoudemire has played in six of the seven games and has looked more like the agile forward he was expected to be, averaging 17.3 points and 6.2 rebounds in a little more than 27 minutes.
As the Knicks prepare to visit the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Stoudemire said the difference for him has been getting consistent playing time, as opposed to earlier in the season, when he was restricted to short bursts on the court.
"The consistent time has been awesome," he said. "Being able to play those minutes on a consistent basis allowed me to create confidence, so I know what to expect every night. I know the minutes are going to be there every night."
The Knicks still face quite an uphill climb to make the playoffs, trailing the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks by four games and the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats by 41/2 games with 14 to play. But with their 92-86 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, they showed that if they can reach the playoffs, they have the potential to be a pesky opponent.
Teammates say Stoudemire's resurgence is a big reason why.
"Throughout this whole stretch, since the All-Star break, Amar'e has been playing at a very high level," Anthony said. "We've been feeding off of that. You can see at times we're going at him. We're riding that horse."
Added Tyson Chandler: "It's making a world of difference having a healthy Amar'e out there playing like a force, putting pressure on the defense as well as providing the extra body in there to help rebound."
Stoudemire scored 21 points, shooting 8-for-15, against Indiana, second on the Knicks only to Anthony's 34 points. This was what the Knicks envisioned before Stoudemire's rash of knee injuries.
"I think this stretch alone has been the best they have been playing together," J.R. Smith said. "They have been feeding off each other."
While the Knicks are careful to not look too far ahead with Stoudemire and are painfully aware that his knee issues can return at any moment, they are ecstatic with what they're getting from him right now.
Coach Mike Woodson said on ESPN Radio on Thursday that Stoudemire has been giving the Knicks "unbelievable minutes" during the winning streak.
"His stats have been off the [charts] in terms of how he's been playing," Woodson said. "That's a major plus."