Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire dunks against the Detroit Pistons during...

Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire dunks against the Detroit Pistons during the first half. (March 6, 2013) Credit: AP

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Amar'e Stoudemire made another strong case to return to the starting lineup after helping the Knicks to a second straight victory. But he may have to settle for starting second halves.

Stoudemire scored easily against the Pistons Wednesday night. He had 22 points, his season high, for the second consecutive game as the Knicks won, 87-77, without Carmelo Anthony at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

"I was aggressive, taking what the defense gives me," Stoudemire said. "Just playing my game. That was it."

"He was pretty good," Mike Woodson said. "He's been great since he's come back. He's been one of the most consistent players off the bench. He's scoring at a high rate. He had a solid game."

Anthony sat out with a sore/stiff right knee that Woodson said is caused by fluid buildup. He's a game-time decision against the Thunder at the Garden Thursday night, when the Knicks go for their sixth win in seven games.

The win and the Pacers' loss to the Celtics moved the Knicks (37-21) into second in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of Indiana (38-23).

If Anthony can't play, Woodson may continue to bring Stoudemire off the bench because he likes him in that role. But the Knicks might need scoring against the defending Western Conference champs. They didn't get any from their starting frontcourt as Tyson Chandler had two points and Kurt Thomas and James White had none.

Stoudemire, who started the third quarter for the second consecutive game, and the guards produced most of the offense for the Knicks. Raymond Felton had 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. He shot 10-for-15, including 4-for-5 on threes. Felton's hot second half helped make up for his seven of the Knicks' 21 turnovers.

"He was ugly early," Woodson said. "I kind of read him the riot act a few times in the timeout and he responded, which is kind of nice, especially down the stretch."

J.R. Smith added 20 points off the bench, including 14 in the second half. In the game-deciding run, the Knicks hit three straight three-pointers, two by Smith and one by Jason Kidd. Felton had seven points and Smith six.

Brandon Knight led Detroit (23-40) with 17 points. Jose Calderon had 10 and 16 assists.

Despite being without Anthony, Woodson decided to bring Stoudemire off the bench again. He said Stoudemire would come in early anyway. Stoudemire entered with 8:22 left in the first quarter and scored 17 points in the first half. For the game he shot 8-for-12 and grabbed nine rebounds in 30:39, as he continues to show signs of being the player he was before knee surgery.

"I don't have to remind guys, man," Stoudemire said. "My dossier speaks for itself. I've been in this league for a long time and I've had a lot of success. It's just a matter now of trying to do the best you can to stay healthy and provide the best leadership qualities you can to help your team win.''

Behind Stoudemire's fast start, the Knicks led by 15 in the second quarter. But they were outscored 40-15 during a stretch of nearly 15 minutes over the second and third quarters and trailed by 10 late in the third.

The Knicks responded with 16 unanswered points and led 71-65 after Smith's three with 9:09 left in the game. An 8-0 Detroit run put the Knicks in a 73-71 hole with 6:53 to go. But the Knicks ran off 16 consecutive points and closed it out.

"We made plays," Felton said. "We made plays, got stops. A lot of guys hit some big shots, so we were able to pull through with a win."

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