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Still Life Left In Amar’e Stoudemire’s Legs

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Amar’e Stoudemire stood in front of a throng of reporters inside a packed Knicks’ locker room and repeated, several times, that he’s finally in a rhythm again. Stoudemire finished with 14-points and 9 rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes off the bench, helping the Knicks stave off a hectic Chicago Bulls’ comeback for an 83-78 win at Madison Square Garden. More importantly, Stoudemire showed there was still life in those surgically repaired knees of his.

He’d been written off by reporters since he came back from another round of surgery this past summer, but all along Stoudemire has had the belief that he could be a contributor again. Even perhaps become an All-Star once again. He may never reach the lofty peak again, but on Wednesday night he took huge steps in proving the critics wrong.

“It’s great in order to be out there playing, in a desperation game, down the stretch, it feels good to be back on the court, tell you that much,” said Stoudemire, who also hit a go-ahead shot in the closing minutes that head coach Mike Woodson called, “the biggest shot of the night.”

“A lot of hard work been put in this year to get in top shape and it’s paying off,” continued Stoudemire.

That much is true. Stoudemire has worked his tail off to get where he is now, another chance to show he can still mix it up with the league’s best. What was working against him previously was a minutes restriction placed upon him – and a plan not to play him in back-to-back games – which never really allowed him to get into that game rhythm that he now speaks of. After averaging just 4.9 points per game in his first 12 appearances, Stoudemire has notched double digits in his past four.

Woodson admitted that Stoudemire being free of the minutes restriction helps the team.

“This is the longest I’ve been able to play him,” said Woodson. “He really looked good tonight. He has come a long way since the start of the season. I could only play him a certain amount of minutes [but] his minutes are starting to grow, and we are starting to benefit from that.”

If Stoudemire, the Knicks’ highest-paid player this season, continues to show a marked improvement – and remains healthy – he may supplant the struggling J.R. Smith as Woodson’s preferred sixth-man. The coach says despite that, he will not push Stoudemire to play more minutes than he currently has played the last two-games, having learned from last season that the players’ body is liable to break down again.
“The big picture is still there,” states Woodson. “He played 27 last night, and 29 tonight. If he can do that consistently, I won’t even consider playing him 30-plus minutes. It would be stupid to do that. He is right where he was a year ago where he is averaging 14 [points] and 7 or 8 rebounds. If he can do that, then he would be a big piece off the bench.”

In the meantime though, Stoudemire isn’t worried about his body breaking down, he’s just happy to be a consistent rotation player, helping his team win ball games.
“I’m getting back into a rhythm, getting back to my old self,” says Stoudemire. “My confidence is starting to rise a little bit more. The more I play, the more I practice, the higher the confidence grows, my teammates start to get a rhythm and understand how I play the game of basketball and as a team we’re starting to figure each other out. And, tonight it showed.”
Stoudemire says he hopes to play in both back-to-back games beginning Friday, in Boston and at home against Atlanta on Saturday.
Image via: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images


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