“I don’t have any reasons, I’ve left them all behind, I’m in a New York state of mind.” For the most part, Billy Joel’s lyrics hold true for Amar’e Stoudemire, except for the lack of reasons.
One reason is the five-year, $100 million contract he signed with the New York Knicks during the 2010 offseason and as for the other, an apparent lack of appreciation in Phoenix.
“If they were looking to rebuild and thought I was the guy they wanted to rebuild with, then we could’ve came to an understanding,” said Stoudemire regarding his departure after spending eight seasons in Phoenix. “But apparently it wasn’t that way. It felt like I wasn’t wanted. It felt like I wasn’t appreciated. I felt like my play on the court was overlooked.”
However, Phoenix fans didn’t seem to make him feel unwanted, as Stoudemire was introduced at the US Airways Center on Friday night when the Knicks visited the Suns. Whether it was a genuine outpouring of respect or simply of matter of longing for what they dearly miss, Phoenix fans welcomed back Stoudemire with a rousing ovation.
“It was great,” Stoudemire said. “It lets me know that the fans are still appreciative of the hard work I put on this court and the perseverance to injuries. It was a great ovation, and I love the Phoenix fans forever.”
There was no love-fest on the court, as the Knicks went on to trounce the Suns 121-96. Stoudemire had 23 points, 9 rebounds, and a couple of swats in his homecoming performance.
The Suns were the latest victims of the Knicks, who have now dispatched of nine straight Western Conference opponents. Their 21-14 record has them sitting pretty at the second spot in the Atlantic Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference—a far cry from the previous Knicks teams that missed the playoffs for six straight seasons.
“It’s something I couldn’t have imagined for the simple fact of how we’re winning and how beautiful the city and fans are,” Stoudemire said. “It’s rock star status here in New York. If we would’ve kept it together in Phoenix, we could’ve had the same success. I’m satisfied. I wouldn’t do anything different.”
Stoudemire himself is playing like a rock star, averaging 26.3 points, nine rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in 37.4 minutes.
Sunday night, Stoudemire will face a familiar foe, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the first time in his New York digs. In fact, it will be the only time the Lakers and Knicks will engage in battle this season.
Historically, Stoudemire’s visits to the STAPLES Center have been forgettable. He’s averaged 15.1 points per game in 11 visits to Los Angeles. However, the change of scenery may be what he needs for a breakout performance against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
While he’s still picking and rolling, especially since being reunited with Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, he has a new partner in crime in Raymond Felton. Felton is currently averaging 18.3 points and 8.7 assists per game—all career-highs.
The early success of the Stoudemire-Felton tandem hearkens back to Stoudemire and Nash, but don’t tell Felton that.
“No, man, don’t compare me to Steve Nash,” said Felton. “Steve Nash is a great point guard who did what he did and who’s still doing what he’s doing. So I don’t want to be compared to nobody. I want to be Raymond Felton, not Steve Nash. I’m Raymond Felton, my own person.”
The Knicks also hope they don’t compare to the same New York teams that have dropped six straight to the Lakers at STAPLES Center. Overall, it’s been almost four years since the Knicks have beaten the Lakers.
However, with a high output of 119.2 points per game in the nine wins against Western Conference teams, New York has to like their chances.
Odom and Artest eager to play Knicks
Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, both New York natives, are eagerly anticipating Sunday’s matchup against the Knicks.
“They’re playing great basketball,” said Odom, who’s from South Jamaica, Queens. “They move the ball as well. They take shots, no one is afraid to shoot. They take the corner three, which is a high-percentage shot in the NBA. They play scrappy defense as well, a lot of points in the paint.”
Artest, also from Queens, remembers watching the New York Knicks teams of the early 1990s.
“I’m from New York so Oakley, Pat Ewing, and that grimy, grimy style of basketball,” said Artest. “New York, when it was time to get to grimy, they had to bring on that Knicks style of basketball with Mason, Starks, and all those guys.”
The Lakers are currently 26-11, good for first in the Pacific Division and third overall in the Western Conference. Heading into the matchup against the Knicks, the team is currently riding a three-game winning streak.
Matt Barnes out indefinitely
In the Lakers’ 101-97 victory against the New Orleans Hornets, Matt Barnes tore the cartilage in his right knee in the second quarter. An MRI on Saturday confirmed the injury and Barnes is expected to miss several weeks, which leaves a void to fill on their bench.
In response to Barnes’ injury, the team recalled rookie Devin Ebanks, who was spending time with the Lakers’ Developmental League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.
In addition to his 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, Barnes’ defensive energy and hard-nosed play is an integral part of the Lakers bench.
“We’re going to lose speed and quickness at that position,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.