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D'Antoni, Amare return to Phoenx

The New York Knicks head to Phoenix Friday night to play a game that has many layers.   

The New York Knicks head to Phoenix Friday night to play a game that has many layers.

But if you ask Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, it’s just another test and not some kind of mushy homecoming for which he’ll get overly sentimental.

“Not for me, other than seeing old friends,” D’Antoni said when asked if it’ll be weird going back to the place that he coached to prominence for five seasons. “But for Amar’e [Stoudemire] it’ll be different. For me, most of the players [he coached] are gone, so it’s not that big a deal…but it’s a good team and a good test for us.”

D’Antoni is right about one thing: this game is a good test because the Suns play at a breakneck pace much like the Knicks [20-14] but he’s also misleading in saying that Phoenix is still a good team. The Suns [14-19] currently sit at 11th in the Western Conference playoff race and have been a shell of its once-dominant self ever since they jettisoned Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson to the Orlando Magic for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and Mickeal Pietrus two weeks ago. About the only connection the Suns have to the D’Antoni glory days is point guard Steve Nash, who is still amongst the elite.

Stoudemire, who left the Suns last July for greener pastures, said it’ll be a little weird for him to return to his original franchise but also said the bigger picture for him is winning the first of a four-game road trip that includes the Lakers, Blazers, and Jazz.

“It’s going to be great and a good opportunity for us. The most important factor is winning, though,” Stoudemire said. “I think we’ve been playing well the last two games. We’ve got to make sure we keep growing defensively and that’s going to be the mark for us against a great offensive team.”

Stoudemire said he still keeps in touch with Nash but said in order for the Knicks to take that next step and be considered an elite team, they must treat this West Coast swing as a business trip and not so much as a reunion. He added that once he arrives in Phoenix, he’ll see some friends and family but as it nears tip-off it’s all about that ‘W’.

“It’s a little bit more than just another game and I think the fans are excited to welcome me back,” he admitted. “[But] we’re starting off a west coast road trip and we want to get a good start, so it’s a game we’re looking to play well and try to win.”

It’ll be a different Knicks team heading into Phoenix than in the two years past under D’Antoni’s watch, as the Knicks will actually field a good team. In a switch of fate, it’s the Knicks that will actually be the superior team, record-wise, and the one that actually looks like a conference contender.

Stoudemire, who’s averaging better numbers across the board this year [26.4 points per game, nine rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per] than in his final season in Phoenix, said such irony isn’t lost on him. He also said he’s more confident than ever that he made the right choice in signing with New York.

“I really didn’t understand what the future was there in Phoenix if it didn’t involve me, so the best opportunity was for me here in New York,” he said, adding that he never understood their fears of him not being able to play an entire season. “I wasn’t quite sure what angle they were going with but hey, it worked out better for myself. I played all 82 games last year. If it weren’t for the eye injury I would’ve played all 82 the year before that, too…I feel great about my situation and we’re playing well.”

The Knicks are coming off a convincing home win against the NBA’s best team, the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday night. But for them to be truly taken seriously, starting the road trip with a win in a tough environment like Phoenix, would go a long way in showing that they’ve arrived.

Stoudemire said he’s ready to lead the way and his teammates are also ready for the challenge.

“You’ve got to have that willpower to want to be successful and you have to want to accept the challenge. You can’t be afraid,” Stoudemire said, adding that the Knicks present matchup problems for the Suns. “I don’t think they got nobody on the team that can stop me. And nobody can stop us as a team, so we’re going to see what we can do.

“No question, they’re going to be ready to go. They understand the magnitude of the game and what we’re trying to bring to the table, as far as winning, so we’re going to be ready to go, for sure.”

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