By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
Game 3 Saturday night between the Knicks and Pacers will be an important one as the series is tied at one game apiece and the winner of Game 3 in that scenario more often than not goes on to win the series. The Knicks will be getting a boost and some help for Game 3 in the form of Amar’e Stoudemire.
Stoudemire will be making his second return from injury this season and could not have come at a better time for the Knicks. The Knicks have watched J.R. Smith struggle mightily since his one-game suspension for elbowing the Celtics’ Jason Terry so having Stoudemire in the lineup is another player more than capable of picking up the scoring slack.
The expectations for Stoudemire do have to be put in check as head coach Mike Woodson expects him to only play 10-15 minutes in Game 3, but you have to expect Stoudemire to be ready. He is one of the hardest working players in the NBA and will give everything he has for his teammates to help them get the win. Having him on the court could be a morale booster as well for the Knicks as they want to give Stoudemire some wins to show him working hard and coming back from injury isn’t for nothing.
Where Stoudemire will help a lot for the Knicks is inside. The Pacers have a massive frontcourt with Roy Hibbert and David West starting, then Ian Mahinmi, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph coming off the bench. The size was a huge problem in Game 1 for the Knicks but they were able to get around it much better in Game 2 for the win. Stoudemire will at least give the Knicks some more size to matchup with the Pacers and give Carmelo Anthony some time away from the power forward position so that he is not banging around with bigger players the whole game.
Getting easy baskets is something that the Knicks have struggled with in their last five playoff games as Smith has fell into a slump and Anthony has struggled with his shooting throughout the playoffs, hitting the 50 percent mark in a game only once. Stoudemire will help this as he showed improved low-post offense before suffering an injury and is an efficient scorer when given the opportunity. Stoudemire’s days of a featured player on offense are most likely behind him but he is more than capable of being a supporting scorer.
Some questions will undoubtedly be raised with Stoudemire coming back, with one being what will the rotation look like? With Stoudemire getting 10-15 minutes that time someone else will have to sit on the bench. The likely people to see a cut are Steve Novak and Chris Copeland, who haven’t had much impact in the playoffs as of yet. Kenyon Martin could see a little less time, but his defense and rebounding would be a perfect complement to Stoudemire on the court.
One interesting option to see less time is Smith, who Woodson has said could be in line for a cut in playing time. Smith has struggled getting the ball into the basket but is a player that Woodson has confidence in and usually rolls with but the playoffs are a different animal and if you are not producing you cannot be on the court. Woodson needs to play the players giving him the best minutes and play the hot hands to get past talented teams such as the Pacers.
Another question people will ask about is the chemistry factor. How will Stoudemire fit in with the rest of his teammates who have been just fine without him on the court this season? One person who is not worried about the chemistry issues is Woodson, who said he will not risk the Knicks chemistry just for the sake of getting Stoudemire on the court for some minutes.
“It’s going to be my job to weigh things out in terms of what he’s looking like when he’s on the floor. I’m not going to risk what we’ve been doing, but I am going to play him just to see where he is.” In other words, if Stoudemire isn’t giving the Knicks what Woodson wants he will find himself right back on the bench just as fast as he was inserted into the game.
Chemistry issues are a fair question to rise, as the Knicks went 16-13 with Stoudemire in the lineup and 38-15 with him out of it. Woodson will have to do his job and get things together because the Knicks really cannot realistically make a deep run into the playoffs without a healthy Stoudemire to give them that added aspect to the offense.