By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — Two months removed from left knee surgery, Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire readily admits he is not at 100 percent health. However, with some of his older teammates playing heavy minutes and other teammates nursing injuries, the six-time All-Star believes he can be of help.
With that said, after missing the first 30 games of the season thanks to a ruptured popliteal cyst, the six-time All-Star made his season debut on Tuesday evening against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden.
The decision was made following encouraging efforts at practice on Sunday and then again on Monday. Stoudemire participated in controlled, live scrimmages at both practices and entered Tuesday officially listed as questionable.
“After those two days of practice with the team, I was able to get a good indication on how I truly feel,” Stoudemire said before the game. “I felt better after day one, I felt even better after day two. I can feel the progress and I can feel the improvement.”
As speculated for weeks leading up to his return, Stoudemire will begin by coming off the bench for head coach Mike Woodson with a minutes restriction. The exact number of minutes Stoudemire will play in the beginning is up in the air, but it is expected to be limited.
“Yeah, I’m still not 100 percent, but again, we’ve got a few guys that are banged up and I wanna make sure that those guys’ bodies hold up for the rest of the season,” Stoudemire said. “For me to get back out there would be great for me to get my feet wet and see how it goes.
His coming off the bench is expected to bolster an already-solid second unit that includes J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Steve Novak.
In 641 career regular season games, Stoudemire has come off the bench just 17 times. That includes zero bench appearances since the 2006-07 season.
Stoudemire’s comeback appears to have be well-timed. He got two consecutive days of practice in on Sunday and Monday, and the Knicks will not play a back-to-back until Jan. 10-11 at home against the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets, respectively. There are also two consecutive off days on Jan. 8 and 9 leading up to the back-to-back.
In short, there is plenty of time for rest right now not only for Stoudemire, but for the rest of an aging roster than has gotten the Knicks to first place in the Atlantic Division and a close second to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s a great stretch for us to have a few days in between to rest and then also play games, which is a big indication of how we’re gonna feel after the game,” Stoudemire said. “The schedule works out for me and hopefully, I keep improving. Once I’m back on the basketball court, I should be good to go. But again, the coaching staff and the training staff will make sure I’m good to go, especially going into the later half of the season. That’s the bigger picture.”