Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire again takes his game above the rim
Amar'e Stoudemire was the original superstar on this Knicks team, the key member of a roster that was being assembled with a championship in mind.
At the start of this season, however, Stoudemire was rarely referred to as a superstar. Three years of injuries had taken a physical and mental toll.
Coming off a knee procedure in the summer, his third in a 10-month span, Stoudemire wasn't expected to contribute all that much. In fact, at the start of the season, the team was limiting him to 10 minutes a game.
Now fast-forward to Saturday night's 102-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, which was Stoudemire's most physically impressive outing in recent memory.
Playing above the rim in a way that was reminiscent of his days with the Phoenix Suns, Stoudemire had three monster dunks, shot 8-for-10, made all five of his free throws and scored 21 points. He made 76ers defenders look foolish several times with his hook shots and moves around the basket.
It was an important performance, given that the Knicks again were without Tyson Chandler, who remains sidelined with an upper-respiratory infection.
"He's getting his power back and he's getting his confidence back," Carmelo Anthony said of Stoudemire. "I think when he starts playing like that, he's only going to get better."
Coach Mike Woodson thought Stoudemire was a big reason the Knicks got the win, their fourth straight and fifth in their last six games.
"He was a force, and defensively I thought he was solid as well," Woodson said. "I mean, he's playing well for us. And we got to keep him at that level."
No longer on a minutes restriction, Stoudemire is averaging 23 minutes and 12.2 points in his last five games. He has scored at least 21 points three times in the last nine games.
"I've been feeling pretty good all year," Stoudemire said after the game. "Explosiveness was there. It's just coming together as a whole. I'm feeling great. Just continue to keep working."
Working means paying careful attention to his body and taking what Stoudemire calls a very strategic approach to his recovery.
Though his minutes in a game no longer are limited, he might take a day off when the Knicks (14-22) play three times in four days. He no longer adheres to a vegan diet but tries to eat clean, meaning that he limits his intake of processed foods.
Anthony believes that one of the biggest changes in Stoudemire has been psychological.
"He's had so many mental injuries over the last couple of years, he really didn't know [where he was]," Anthony said. "That can mess you up mentally, and I think it bothered him for a long period of time mentally. So now he's just starting to bounce back, get his confidence back and his legs and his game. We are supporting him."