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D'Antoni hopes to get Bender playing time quickly

FILE - Former Indiana Pacer Jonathan Bender, left,

FILE - Former Indiana Pacer Jonathan Bender, left, pulls down a rebound against Minnesota Timberwolves' Loren Woods. (Nov. 16, 2002) Credit: AP

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - It's possible that the Knicks' new addition is more than an inexpensive, 7-foot bench ornament. Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said he would like to get Jonathan Bender into the game when the Knicks play at Charlotte Tuesday night.

"He could [play]," D'Antoni said Monday after Bender's second practice. "Because I wouldn't mind, depending how the game is going to go, getting him time as soon as I can at a non-stressful time."

D'Antoni said he thought Bender was ready to play this past summer when the Knicks brought him in for a workout, but Bender believed he wasn't ready.

Bender is only 28, but he hasn't played a full NBA season since 2001-02, when he averaged 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds for the Pacers. Injuries forced him to miss 172 games in the next three seasons before chronic knee pain sidelined him indefinitely in February 2006. If he plays Tuesday night, it would be his first appearance in an NBA game since Nov. 5, 2005.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh has been fond of Bender since he acquired him for the Pacers 10 years ago. Bender was selected out of high school by Toronto with the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft and was acquired by Indiana in a trade on Aug. 1, 1999.

Many saw Sunday's move as a personal favor. Now it could be an indication that the Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - are unsure that they are going to get much out of Eddy Curry, who returned Friday after an eight-game absence but played only 6:30 in the first half.

If Bender does play Tuesday night, it won't be significant minutes.

"He needs to learn our system and the plays and we need to get him in the flow," D'Antoni said. "We're excited about getting him here, but we're going to have to go baby steps to get him back."

"When he's ready to test me out," Bender said, "I'm ready to go in and give it all I've got."

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