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Stoudemire hoping playoffs can ease his pain

\Forward Amar'e Stoudemire #1 (R) of the New

\Forward Amar'e Stoudemire #1 (R) of the New York Knicks is defended by Forward Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat. (April 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

MIAMI -- Amar'e Stoudemire has a tattoo of a teardrop below his right eye and a hole in his heart that few things can fill. But basketball and the Knicks' success have helped him find some happiness.

He got the teardrop to honor his older brother Hazell, who was killed in a Florida car crash in February. The Stoudemire family continues to grieve, and it was hard for Amar'e when a back problem kept him from playing 13 games recently. But Stoudemire is feeling good physically and has the playoffs to take his mind off his emotional pain.

"It's actually a lot of joy now," Stoudemire said. "It's been an up-and-down year for me as far as the death of my brother. That's definitely been hard for me. Also the injury to the back, and so many different ups and downs this season. It's been tough. But I think the great part about it now is I finally feel great.

"My family is starting now to get over my brother's death, kind of. But it's still pretty tender right now. The great thing about it is I have my teammates and they've been there for me."

Stoudemire wants to repay them by being there for them in this first-round playoff series against the Heat.

"I feel great," Stoudemire said. "The playoffs are going to bring out the best of me."

But Stoudemire, like the rest of the Knicks, stumbled in Game 1. He had a big dunk in the first quarter and did little after that, finishing 2-for-7 with nine points in the Knicks' 100-67 loss.

Now Stoudemire and his teammates are looking to bounce back, or this could be a very quick series.

It's important to Stoudemire to be the player he was before his back failed him last postseason, when spasms limited him in the final three games of a Boston sweep, and again this March, when he suffered a bulging disc in his back. He wants to be the player he's been for most of his 10-year career. The Knicks need him to be.

Stoudemire has had an inconsistent year. He averaged 17.5 points, nearly eight less than last season. But he has shown signs of having his explosiveness back. He completely posterized Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas with a thunderous dunk in the Knicks' regular-season finale Thursday and then chest- and shoulder-bumped some teammates.

"Basketball is totally a release," Stoudemire said. "When I step on the court or I'm with my teammates, I forget about anything else that's going on.''

The Knicks signed Stoudemire to a $100-million contract two summers ago, and he immediately declared the Knicks "back." They're still not a perennial power, but his arrival made the Knicks relevant and a playoff team again. They're in the postseason for the second straight year after making it once in the previous nine seasons.

A number of things have affected Stoudemire this season -- the lockout, his back and Mike D'Antoni's resignation. But he also hasn't yet meshed his talents with Carmelo Anthony and has had to adjust to playing with center Tyson Chandler. Stoudemire has played center most of his career.

The Knicks went 14-5 without Stoudemire and 22-25 with him. Coach Mike Woodson is working on getting the Knicks' Big Three to coexist and trying to find ways to bring out the best in Stoudemire.

"He's very critical to what we do," Woodson said. "When you think about the system Amar'e has played in, he's always been the [center]. He's played some [power forward] in his career. In his heyday, he played [center], when he was the focal point of pick-and-rolls and being able to roll and to pop and make plays off the dribble. We're not going to take that away from him. He's just going to have to learn how to play with a legitimate big guy."

If Stoudemire and Anthony can jell, the Knicks finally could be back. They have talent and depth, and with Woodson pushing them and Chandler patrolling the paint, defense is a priority again.

The Knicks haven't won a playoff series since 2000 or a playoff game since 2001. Stoudemire couldn't believe the length of those droughts, but he entered these playoffs thinking much bigger than winning a game or series.

"It would mean the world to me if we end up winning a championship," he said. "I wouldn't know what to think or what to do. It would be such an accomplishment. I may cry for like a month straight."

Stoudemire has cried enough this year. But these would be tears of joy and would erase some of the pain from postseasons past.

He reached the Western Conference finals twice in Phoenix with Steve Nash and under D'Antoni. In 2007, Stoudemire was suspended one game in the Western semifinals for leaving the bench after Spurs forward Robert Horry knocked Nash into the scorer's table. They lost the series and maybe their best chance of winning it all.

Last season, in his first playoffs as a Knick, Stoudemire scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a Game 1 loss to Boston. But he injured his back on a dunk in warmups before Game 2 and totaled 30 points and 20 rebounds the last three games.

All of this made Stoudemire "hungrier" heading into the series with the Heat.

"We want to win a championship," Stoudemire said. "It starts this year. It started last year, but I think now we feel very confident about what we can do.

"I have no pressure on my shoulders. But I do want to win here in New York. That's the main reason for me coming. When I signed, I was adamant about winning a championship. I really want that for myself, for the city, for the state and also for the fans."

And for his brother, too.

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