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It's tough to check Little Nate - and his ego

ORLANDO, Fla. - Here at Amway Arena and just about everywhere else in the NBA, he is recognized as KryptoNate. But Nate Robinson also developed a far more notable identity this season: as one of the most effective bench players in the league. "I think it's a bigger role than what people think," Robinson said before scoring 10 points in the Knicks' 105-95 win over the Magic Friday night. "You have to bring your energy and you come and change the game and try to get momentum on your side. It's fun." Robinson entered the game averaging 17.5 points, which ranked second behind Mavericks guard Jason Terry (19.6) for the highest scoring average by a reserve who has made fewer than 12 starts. In a poll of 21 writers around the NBA, Robinson received only one first-place vote for the league's Sixth Man Award, but he was ranked second five times and third six times, with nine not including him in the top three. Terry and Nuggets guard J.R. Smith were the top choices. The voting for the top sixth man, like the MVP and others, is done by basketball writers around the league and will be announced during the playoffs. Robinson said if he couldn't choose himself, he would pick Terry. "Seattle guy," the Rainier Beach product said with a nod. The fact that he's in the conversation says a lot about the growth of his name recognition, which skyrocketed after he leaped over Dwight Howard to win the Slam Dunk contest in February. But along with the attention came a closer focus on his game and his personality. In the first few weeks after the All-Star break and that KryptoNate moment, Robinson was an unstoppable offensive dynamo. But as his confidence grew, so did the cartoon character image. Somewhere along the way, Robinson lost himself and his game. Yes, the ego has crash-landed. The resulting antics - including high-fiving a courtside-sitting Will Ferrell while running back on defense and incessantly jawing with officials and coach Mike D'Antoni - were not received well. And now, as much as Robinson is considered a valuable player that small-market teams may see as a ticket-seller, others are concerned about his unbridled ego and coachability. Robinson is aware of the criticism but doesn't seem to be aware of its potential impact come this summer, when he'll be a restricted free agent. "I'm just me; I don't really think about it too much, but I don't worry about what people think," he said. "I am who I am." D'Antoni, who has reached a boiling point with Robinson several times this season, believes the 5-9 guard was made to be that energy player off the bench. And that would continue to be his role if the Knicks were to re-sign him this summer. "I think, right now, definitely," D'Antoni said. "That doesn't mean he can't improve as a playmaker and make better decisions and get better defensively so his role could evolve going forward." Notes & quotes: Al Harrington had 27 points and Wilson Chandler 22 for the Knicks. David Lee had 20 points and 16 rebounds, giving him an NBA-leading 63 double-doubles, one more than the Magic's Howard (16 points, 14 rebounds).


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