The long “anticipated” return to the New York’s lineup by Amare Stoudemire occurs today for Game 3 of the Knicks-Pacers series.
“Anticipated” is held in quotes because how Knicks fans feel is anything but hope for the return of their long-injured superstar; the overwhelming feeling is rather…dread.
Despite being only expected to play 10-15 minutes, according to coach Mike Woodson, there is a strong fear that Amare and Melo (and Chandler) will fail to work well with each other – long the problem with this athletic connection.
The Knicks were 38-15 without Amare this season and only 16-13 with him. Since he left the team for his knee surgery, the team finished with a 17-6 record to win the Atlantic Division and claim the 2nd seed in the East.
These record facts are important, but should not tell the whole story about his return.
While his defense is sub par, so is for those he will be seemingly taking minutes from – Chris Copeland and Steve Novak. Stoudemire also gives the Knicks a bigger body in the paint than either of those two can, and allows more than just Chandler, Melo, and Kenyon Martin to be the lone players capable of playing the center and power forward position on the playoff roster (Marcus Camby is not capable of playing more than 40 seconds per game and is excluded).
Getting to the line is also a weakness for the Knicks, as is for most teams that a great inside game. But Amare gets to the line – in 29 games he got to the line 130 times – and when he’s there, he hits his free throws [80.8% this year].
His offense, even with the first few games he was getting back on track included, was strong. He shot 57.7% from the floor. He averaged 14.2 points despite only getting 23.5 minutes on the court per game.
Those points, mostly come from the paint, where the Knicks struggled against the Pacers in Game 1. According to Ian Begley, the Knicks were outscored in the paint by 14 in the first game, a loss. In the second, they had a 52-40 advantage – a win.
While not the strongest rebounder, he did have 5 per game this year, and against the Pacers, the Knicks were outrebounded by 14 in Game 1. They were able have a 2-rebound advantage in Game 2.
The few minutes Stoudemire can bring, will be key in non-ideal situations as well.
Tyson Chandler, still making his way back from injury, only played 28 minutes in Game 1 and fouled out. When he is gone, the only other reasonable option at center is Martin, also a threat to pick up fouls [4 in just 24 minutes of action in Game 1]. Having that extra big-man to use is important for the Knicks.
Finally, with news that J.R. Smith has a 102 degree temperature and possible flu going into Game 3, the Knicks are going to need points from someone. Taking a lot of Smith’s minutes will be Pablo Prigioni, someone who has excelled in the playoffs thus far, but cannot be leaned on for points.
That is something Amare Stoudemire can be.
But it will all come down to the chemistry he has with Carmelo Anthony. There is no room for struggles or time to work out the kinks; the Knicks are in the midst of a playoff run and these two must be able to spread the ball and be successful together.
They have only had mild success together, but for the Knicks to finally rise to expectations, the STAT-Melo combination will be the only way to get there….and it must start today.