DALLAS -- If Spike Lee wanted to do a sequel to his famed basketball flick featuring the fictional Jesus Shuttlesworth, he could cast Jerry Stackhouse in the leading role and call it "He's Still Got Game."
Stackhouse has played hoops for so long that he's losing count.
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"How many years is this?" he cracked after the Nets' 119-82 win over the Pistons Monday. He was responding to a question asking how he felt seeing game action for the first time in nearly two months. "It's always good to get out and compete. I'm just understanding our situation."
After a torrid early-season start, when he was counted on heavily and more frequently than anyone expected, Stackhouse basically has been a forgotten man -- on purpose. Before Monday, the 38-year-old hadn't played in the previous 22 games. He was dropped from the rotation, victimized by a numbers game since team brass wanted interim coach P.J Carlesimo to get a good look at MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic.
Stackhouse's competitive juices had to be kept in check for the betterment of the team.
"We kind of understood the dynamic of what needed to happen," said Stackhouse, who'll find himself in another one of his old stamping grounds Wednesday night when the Nets (39-28) take on the Mavs (32-35). "Coach came to me and told me what the deal was a couple of months ago, told me he was going to get the younger guys some time and the odd guy out would be me.
"But I just needed to make sure I stayed engaged and stayed ready so when things rolled back around, I could be a factor in the playoffs. So that's what I've done. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to be out there and you want to compete. I was sold on the big picture when I signed here and ain't nothing changed with that."
In 20 minutes off the bench Monday, Stackhouse sure looked as if he hasn't missed a beat since last playing in a game Jan. 26, canning 5 of 6 shots and finishing with 10 points. He even made an acrobatic layup and swatted a shot.
"We needed to reaffirm what he was capable of," Carlesimo said. "He's back, he's back working and getting in shape. He can play basketball. Again, a good problem, but that's another guy that, frankly, we were confident about anyhow. But it's somebody we feel we can count on in big situations."
In the meantime, he'll keep taking big gulps from the Fountain of Youth, maintaining some freshness as he prepares for his ninth trek to the playoffs in his 17 seasons.
Its a blessing in disguise, Stackhouse said. If I was playing all those minutes, Id be worn the hell down by now. So, its almost like they protected me from myself. Thats how I looked at it. ... The regular season really aint where its at for me. Its all about the playoffs.
People say that we are not really expected to win a championship this year. I dont think like that. Ive been around a team with just as much talent and weve gone to the Finals before. So, in my mind, anything is possible and obviously, Im making sure that Im ready to do my part in that possibility.