Amar'e Stoudemire's minutes and involvement in the offense will continue to increase, as will his playing time with Carmelo Anthony.
Ultimately, how he and Anthony play with each other and off one another could be the difference between a long playoff run and another early postseason exit.
"It'll come," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "I saw flashes of it last year when they were playing together. They're going to be fine together. I know you guys are always debating 'can they play together?' They're both pro players, All-Star guys who have played a number of minutes, played at a high level in this league. They'll figure it out. It's going to be my job to help them figure it out."
The Knicks have shown they can beat some elite teams. They're 4-0 against Miami and San Antonio. But winning in the regular season is different from winning a playoff series. A team needs stars and strong defense to advance deep in the playoffs.
The defense has slipped a lot lately. Woodson addressed it this past week, and the Knicks responded by holding San Antonio, the top-scoring team in the NBA, to 83 points on Thursday. He will continue to harp on that because it's hard to outscore opponents as mostly a jump-shooting team, which the Knicks are.
That could change if Stoudemire returns to his All-Star form.
"He's getting better and better," Anthony said. "We know it's going to take some time. He knows that, so we try to take that pressure off of him, off of his shoulders to know that you're not going to get it back all in one game. Give it what you've got, we've got your back and just keep chipping away at it. Eventually it's going to come back."
Stoudemire is a prolific pick-and-roll player and has the potential to score off post-ups. He won't suddenly morph into Hakeem Olajuwon, who tutored him over the summer, but he would give the Knicks a different and much-needed look if he can be effective down low.
The biggest thing, though, is Anthony and Stoudemire being effective together.
The Knicks went into last night 31-34 in the regular season when Stoudemire and Anthony both play, and 9-3 under Woodson. Having better and more consistent point guards should improve that winning percentage.
Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are pass-first point guards who know how to set up their teammates. When Raymond Felton returns from his hand injury, the Knicks will have another player who knows how to get Anthony and Stoudemire going.
Felton, who is more offensive-minded than the other two point guards, could get to the basket more easily if Anthony demands his usual attention and Stoudemire regains his explosiveness and is playing at a near-All-Star level.
The truth is the Knicks are a work in progress, and they need to work through everything now and make sure they're healthy and solid heading into the postseason. Stoudemire needs to play through his mistakes to get his rhythm and timing back.
It doesn't matter if the Knicks lose a game or three in January. They have to build toward something. The Knicks need Stoudemire to keep improving, and they have to consistently commit to stopping the ball.
Stars and good defense win in the NBA.
Carmelo Anthony matched his season high of 45 points in Tuesday's loss to Portland and became the first Knick since Allan Houston in 2002-03 to score at least 45 twice in a season.
Even more impressive: Anthony hadn't played in a week because of a hyperextended left knee that almost kept him out of that game. He shot 14-for-24 but missed a potential game-tying three with 15.9 seconds left.
Anthony already has missed six games with various injuries and said he's not concerned about that affecting whatever chance he has of being the MVP this season. "That's the last thing on my mind at this point," he said. "The only thing I'm worried about is being healthy, staying healthy, doing what I have to do for the big picture, for the long haul, which is the end of the season, which is our playoff run."
Feeling the love
Amar'e Stoudemire said he didn't expect the loud standing ovation he got in his season debut Tuesday and hopes to give the Garden fans many more reasons to cheer.
Stoudemire, who said he "was very emotional" when he heard the crowd reaction, thinks the fans appreciate that he made the Knicks a playoff team again after signing in 2010, and that his arrival helped lead to the acquisitions of Anthony and Tyson Chandler.
"It's turned out to be pretty good success so far," Stoudemire said. "We still have a ways to go. We're still seeking a championship. But so far, so good. We're playing extremely well this year. I want to make sure I bring a positive light to the team that will get us over the hump and will make us better."
Around the NBA
Gregg Popovich coaches his way and puts his San Antonio Spurs above everything else, including the NBA. If Popovich wanted to sit some players against the Knicks on Thursday at the end of a trip and a stretch of four games in five nights, he would have, regardless of the $250,000 the league fined San Antonio for keeping Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and North Babylon's Danny Green out of a Nov. 29 game in Miami. "It's not about rest," Popovich said. "It's about health and about safety. Rest comes into it a little bit more toward the end. For us, being older, in the beginning of the year, it's about doing what we have to do so they're there at the end of the season." . . . Amityville's Mike James signed with the Texas Legends, the Mavericks' D-League affiliate, in hopes of getting a spot on Dallas' roster. James appeared in 10 games for the Bulls last season.