Amar'e Stoudemire celebrates after a blocked shot against the Toronto...

Amar'e Stoudemire celebrates after a blocked shot against the Toronto Raptors. (March 20, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

TORONTO -- Amar'e Stoudemire has been shouting, flexing his muscles and emphatically nodding his head throughout the Knicks' five-game winning streak. He's feeling good about the Knicks, but probably more so about himself.

Most every Knicks fan has wondered what's wrong with Stoudemire and if he would ever regain the explosiveness he had last season. He seems to have eased concerns lately with his aggressiveness and effectiveness around the basket -- just in time, too.

The Knicks, who would return to .500 with a win Friday night in Toronto, believe they can contend for the Atlantic Division title. They are within three games of Philadelphia with 19 to play. Their chances of climbing improve with Stoudemire playing inspired basketball.

"My rhythm is back," he said. "My strength is back. My timing is back. I feel great.''

It's taken about two-thirds of this lockout-shortened 66-game season for him to become the player he's always been. The reasons for his drop-off after averaging 25.3 points last season have been well-documented.

In the offseason, Stoudemire added about 15 pounds of muscle while trying to strengthen his back and played minimal basketball. The weight gain affected his mobility, and he's in the process of shedding it. Stoudemire is down from 260 to 250 pounds.

He also had to adjust to not only playing with Carmelo Anthony but with Tyson Chandler, an inside presence who has impacted Stoudemire's getting in the paint on pick-and-rolls.

Since Mike D'Antoni resigned and Mike Woodson replaced him, the Knicks are running fewer pick-and-rolls. Stoudemire also has played more center and has been more involved and active around the basket -- on both ends.

He's had critical fourth-quarter blocks and some resounding dunks in the last two wins. Stoudemire has averaged 21.5 points, shooting 59.3 percent, and 10.5 rebounds in the last two games. He's scored at least 21 in consecutive games for the first time since the first week in January.

"When he's attacking the rim the way he's attacking and everything he's providing on the other end, it makes us a complete team on both ends," Chandler said.

"Everybody's been feeding off of his energy, especially offensively," Anthony said. "He looks more powerful out there going to the rack, finishing, and we love it."

The Knicks have held teams to 86.6 points in the winning streak, nearly 10 less than in the first 42 games (96.4). They're playing with more focus and getting the boost they've needed from Stoudemire.

He helped bring excitement back to the Knicks when he signed a five-year, $100-million deal in 2010, and now Stoudemire wants to bring much more to New York.

"It's still a matter of winning a championship," he said. "Being the first guy to sign, I want to win. I want to bring that winning mentality to the city of New York. Everyone's doing it. It's not just me. Carmelo's doing a great job, Tyson is doing a phenomenal job, and on down the line. We are all chiming in and playing great."

Notes & quotes: Jared Jeffries won't play against Toronto because of a sore right knee and is doubtful for Saturday's game against Detroit at the Garden. Jeffries, who missed four games this month with soreness in the knee, will have an MRI after the Knicks return from Toronto.