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Amar'e Stoudemire has been a bright spot this season because of all his hard work

Amar'e Stoudemire of the Knicks goes to the

Amar'e Stoudemire of the Knicks goes to the hoop against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

PHOENIX - Amar'e Stoudemire is somewhat like the Knicks right now.

Both were expected to have little left or essentially be done at this point of the season. But the Knicks remain in the thick of the playoff hunt, just 1½ games out of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot heading into Friday night's game against the Suns. Stoudemire has enjoyed a renaissance and has been a major contributor to the cause.

"I couldn't be more proud of a pro because Amar'e works to play basketball," coach Mike Woodson said. "A lot of players probably would have called it quits after what he's gone through."

Multiple knee surgeries have taken away some of the explosiveness that Stoudemire displayed during his eight years with the Suns. But they didn't take away his drive, work ethic or heart.

After playing only 29 games last season -- all as a reserve -- and undergoing three knee operations in a 10-month span, he is playing better than anyone not named Amar'e Stoudemire could have imagined.

The Knicks acquired Andrea Bargnani as insurance in the offseason, but Stoudemire said he felt his "skill was somewhat forgot about." He also said Woodson didn't "understand my skill and what I bring to the table."

But the Knicks weren't sure how much Stoudemire would be able to play or how long he would last. At the start of the season, he was restricted to 10 minutes a game. Now it's up to 30.

Stoudemire has played in 56 games, averaging 11.1 points, and has really lifted his play since Woodson inserted him in the starting lineup late last month. He's averaging 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds as a starter.

Carmelo Anthony has benefited because he has offensive help, which has allowed him to be more effective late in games. Entering Friday night, the Knicks were 8-4 in games started by Stoudemire.

"For him to keep bouncing back, man, it takes a lot of mental effort to do that as well as physically -- and he keeps doing it," Woodson said. "That to me is the sign of a true pro because a lot of guys would just say after a while, 'Forget it, man. I've had enough. And enough is enough.' But he hasn't been like that. And I admire him for that because I know how hard he's worked."

It had to be especially gratifying for Stoudemire to walk back into US Airways Center instead of limping. The Suns didn't think his body would hold up for more than three years when the Knicks signed him to a five-year, $100-million deal in 2010.

"I feel great," Stoudemire said. "My body feels strong. I feel healthy. I just want to make sure I continue to say my prayers; hopefully I'll stay healthy for the rest of my career."

Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, has been able to overcome his health problems by working hard and reinventing himself to a degree. He says he's "much more skilled" now than he used to be.

He's still a really accomplished pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop player, but he also has developed a solid post game from his offseason work with former Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon.

"Last year was a very frustrating year," Stoudemire said. "Knowing how much I trained and worked on being a dominant player and then receiving those injuries and coming off the bench, it was one of the hardest years I've endured in my career.

"I still stayed positive, I stayed optimistic about things and I've been an example for a lot of the youth out there that no matter what the situation might be, always continue to work. You have the goals in mind and you know what type of player you want to become; just keep working."

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