Stoudemire steps up as Knicks prepare to face Thunder

Kevin Durant makes his annual trip to MSG to face the Knicks on Thursday night. Credit: Getty Images
Kevin Durant makes his annual trip to MSG to face the Knicks on Thursday night.
Credit: Getty Images

UPDATE: March 7, 10:30 a.m.

Carmelo Anthony was a scratch, as expected, in Wednesday night’s 87-77 win over the Pistons.

Anthony is still listed as questionable for tonight’s match up with the Thunder, but the outlook may be less positive today. Head coach Mike Woodson admitted at Wednesday’s shootaround that Anthony did not just have soreness in his right knee — as previously reported — but had fluid buildup in the knee.

Kurt Thomas replaced Anthony at forward in the starting lineup, instead of Amar’e Stoudemire, against the Pistons. Thomas played just four minutes, however, while Stoudemire contributed 31 minutes off the bench.

————————————-

The Knicks might’ve stumbled on to something in the aftermath of Carmelo Anthony’s knee injury Monday night in Cleveland.

While their MVP candidate remains day-to-day recovering from soreness in his right knee — and is also listed as questionable for Thursday night’s tilt with Oklahoma City — the Knicks might’ve gotten back to the same efficient offense that spurred them to an 18-5 start, and what also propelled them to overcome a 22-point deficit in Cleveland.

Anthony is second in the league in scoring at 28.2 points per game, just mere percentage points behind leader Kevin Durant (28.6) of the soon-to-be visiting Thunder. But as wonderful as Anthony has been this season, the Knicks’ offense runs more efficiently utilizing head coach Mike Woodson’s ball-swing offense, instead of the recent trend of giving the ball to their leading scorer and idly watching him go to work.

The Knicks certainly need Anthony at 100 percent against the Thunder, but should he sit out (they’re 3-4 without him), Woodson should be encouraged that the team has showed they can distribute the scoring responsibilities and are seemingly back to their sharing ways. New York had 23 assists on 36 made field goals against the Cavs. And while none of the starters reached double figures in scoring, the bench carried the way with 70 of the 102 points, which also showed they are capable of generating offense in Anthony’s absence.

Amar’e Stoudemire led the way with 22 points in a season-high 32 minutes — despite Woodson being forced to give his power forward a 30-minute cap. And should Stoudemire continue to ascend and be more comfortable in his expanding role, the Knicks just may finally have someone other than Anthony who’s able to close out games.

“If needed, I’m pretty sure I’ll play however amount of minutes I need to play and do whatever role coach wants,” said Stoudemire.

Since returning to the lineup following a two-month absence after his offseason knee debridement procedure, Stoudemire has averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds during his 23 games. He’s also converted 63.1 percent of his field-goal attempts and is shooting 81.1 percent from the foul line.

Immediately following the Cavs’ game, Woodson hinted that Stoudemire should be a bigger factor down the stretch – even if Anthony returns for the Thunder game and regardless of the perceived chemistry issues between the two. Woodson also noted, however, that it’s unlikely that Stoudemire will start if Anthony sits out the game.

“The thing with Amar’e is that I’m on a minute restriction, and I’m trying to gauge it as I go along,” Woodson said, adding he’ll experiment with the idea of keeping a bigger lineup that’ll feature Stoudemire, Anthony and Tyson Chandler on the floor more down the stretch. “We’re pretty happy when him [Stoudemire], Melo and Tyson are on the court together. … [Stoudemire] needs to be in the game more at the end, [because] while it’s a tough matchup for us guarding perimeter players, it’s also to our advantage offensively going big.”

And for a team like the Thunder that boasts a frontline featuring the 6-foot-9 Durant, the shot-blocking Serge Ibaka and wide-body center Kendrick Perkins, it may be in the Knicks’ best option to go with the big lineup.

Knicks notes

» Power forward Kenyon Martin was signed to a second 10-day contract on Tuesday, despite playing only five minutes since originally signing with the team on Feb. 21.

Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.



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