Al Iannazzone Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone.

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11 years for The Record. Al covered the Knicks and Nets in that time, and also reported on the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other major sporting events. Al appeared regularly on the YES Network’s Nets pregame show from 2005-2011.

Follow him on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone.
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Most of what Jeremy Lin has done has been without Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Eventually, the two stars will return to the Knicks.

"I'll probably have to start them," Mike D'Antoni said tongue-in-cheek.

Stoudemire, who is in Florida for his brother's funeral, will be back Monday; Anthony (strained groin) probably at some point this week. But when they return, they'll be rejoining a different team. One that runs a heavy number of pick-and-rolls, shares the ball and gets everyone involved.

"My question is if it doesn't work, where will the blame go?" said an NBA scout who has seen plenty of Lin lately. "Will it be those two guys holding the ball? The ball moved. Jeremy has a huge part in that."

Stoudemire is used to that, having played for D'Antoni with the Suns and Knicks. The adjustment probably will have to come with Anthony, who is one of the best isolation players in the league.

The short answer to the ongoing debate of whether the Knicks need their stars back is this: Yes. They will be better. There will be adjustments, but the Knicks will be better.

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Lin has been terrific, but you need star players -- closers to finish games against the likes of the Bulls and the Heat.

Some may think the Knicks are better off without Stoudemire and Anthony. "That's ridiculous," Tyson Chandler said. "We got two All-Stars, two All-NBA players. There's no way you can tell me we're a better team without them. I don't care what our record says.

"The thing is right now, we're playing better basketball. We got a nice guard out there who makes good decisions. With them back, we'll be that much better because we'll have two finishers."

Lin has helped Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries play better and he'll do the same for Anthony and Stoudemire because of how he reads defenses, attacks the paint and distributes the ball. But those two also will make Lin better because teams won't be able to trap or double-team him with them on the court.

D'Antoni's eyes already are lighting up.

"I'm excited about getting those two guys back and I'm excited about the possibilities of where we can go," he said. "We should only get better from here. Guys will have to bend a little bit and we'll bend toward them. We see the light."


Lin right man for the job

Lin's play has been eyebrow- raising enough. But consider that a fourth point guard who was this-close to being waived has resuscitated the Knicks' season and might even have saved D'Antoni's job.

Lin fixed what was structurally wrong. They needed a point guard to run D'Antoni's system.

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"He's kind of what I was searching for," D'Antoni said.

It's only a handful of games, but if you can run a pick-and-roll, you can thrive. Raymond Felton and Chris Duhon come to mind. Both have not played as well as they did under D'Antoni, and now Lin is the latest example.

A veteran NBA coach is a believer. "The Knicks happened into a solid player," the coach said. "He knows how to run a team. I don't think he's an NBA star, but you want him on your team. They found a nice player. They came across a nice piece of the puzzle."


Mutual admiration

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D'Antoni said he wasn't going after the fans with his "anybody who boos Jared Jeffries has got to re-examine their life a little bit" speech. Some of those same fans have been calling for D'Antoni's job for a long time. But he said he did that for his team.

"I didn't take on the fans," D'Antoni said. "It was a few people. Our fans are great. But it's one of those things, I want them to appreciate him and I want the players to know I appreciate what they're doing."

Jeffries, a glue guy who draws the fans' ire because of his offensive ineffectiveness, appreciates D'Antoni, and not just for defending him.

"I think every player at every level of basketball looks for a coach to do that for them," Jeffries said. "You'll never get a better coach in the NBA. You'll never get a better player's coach, a coach that fights for every one of his players, that genuinely cares about every one of his players and wants to see them do well. He doesn't have an ego. He is probably the best player's coach and best person you can have in this league."

Jeffries also said he was worried about D'Antoni's job when the Knicks lost 11 of 13, and hopes their improved play and recent success take some of the heat off the coach.