Originally Posted by NY Daily News
Amar'e Stoudemire talking about his defense as Knicks look to extend five-game winning streak
BY Frank Isola
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Thursday, November 25th 2010, 4:53 PM
When Amar'e Stoudemire began exploring his free-agent options last summer he vowed to stay away from any team that didn't stress defense. And then the Knicks offered Stoudemire $100 million and amazingly he altered his priorities.
It was about this same time when Mike D'Antoni, according to team sources, had a change of heart regarding Stoudemire. As the Knicks were putting together their free-agent wish list, D'Antoni expressed serious reservations about Stoudemire during meetings with club executives. D'Antoni, having coached Stoudemire in Phoenix, felt he wasn't a franchise player who could be counted on in the fourth quarter and took possessions off on the defensive end.
But the Knicks and D'Antoni altered their strategy once it became clear that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had no intentions of making Madison Square Garden home. Suddenly, Stoudemire wasn't a bad Plan D.
The unlikely reunion of Stoudemire and D'Antoni has, for the moment, returned the Knicks to respectability. The Knicks are riding a five-game winning streak and are 8-8 overall heading into Saturday's matinee against Atlanta. And if you think Stoudemire is ready to hold a press conference with a banner "Mission Accomplished" serving as a backdrop, guess again.
Stoudemire isn't satisfied with mediocrity.
"It would be a lot worse," he said following Wednesday's 99-95 victory against Charlotte. "Being 8-8 and .500 is something that we have to improve on."
That's a refreshing attitude for the team's franchise player. Complacency has killed the Knicks in the past. Three years ago, Garden Chairman James Dolan gave Isiah Thomas a contract extension when the Knicks moved into eighth place for 24 hours in March. The club hasn't sniffed the playoffs since.
This year, however, the Knicks are an improved team, and in the watered down Eastern Conference they have the ingredients to reach the playoffs. Stoudemire gives them a legitimate star, Raymond Felton is an upgrade at point guard and in Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler and Ronnie Turiaf, the Knicks have defensive-minded players.
Stoudemire says defense is more of a priority than at any point in his career as he proved on Wednesday with six blocked shots against the Bobcats. He's still not a great one-on-one defender but Stoudemire produced the defensive play of the game by rejecting Stephen Jackson's potential go-ahead dunk with 35 seconds left after Jackson had driven past Danilo Gallinari on the perimeter.
"When trying to win ball games, defense is what does it," Stoudemire said. "Getting stops, getting rebounds ... it's imperative for me to bring that defensive intensity."
The falling out D'Antoni and Stoudemire had in Phoenix centered on D'Antoni feeling that Stoudemire lacked focus on defense. The irony of course is that D'Antoni has a reputation for not stressing defense (although he'll gladly debate anyone who says just that.)
Stoudemire doesn't argue that his reputation as a poor defensive player was well deserved and seemed to suggest that D'Antoni was indirectly responsible.
"It was fair," he said. "I was never taught defense. I just never was taught it in high school and also in the NBA."
Stoudemire added that prior to his final season with the Suns "I took it upon myself to get better defensively" and that Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry was responsible for that new outlook.
"I've got to give it to Alvin Gentry," Stoudemire added. "He really implemented some strategies that were helpful to me. I took what I learned last year and carried it over to this year."
The Knicks are now one of the league's top shot-blocking teams and seem to have contested more shots in 16 games than they did in their previous 100. Stoudemire is now so committed to defense that late Wednesday he recited a quote from one of the NBA's greatest defensive big men.
"I once read in a book that Bill Russell says 'you will never have a perfect game but you can always pursue it,'" Stoudemire said. "It's about getting better and if we continue to look at ourselves in the mirror and understand that we have a lot of room to improve, despite having success right now, we have a great chance to get better and win games."