Amare needs this pitstop
On three separate occasions in the past week, while Carmelo Anthony has been surrounded by media holding court, Amar'e Stoudemire has slinked away without talking.
Stoudemire, showing a humble side, has given Melo a chance to take the spotlight and role of team spokesman. Which is fine.
But if Stoudemire does not find his dead legs in April, the Knicks are dead, too.
If the Knicks don't get the active, snarling Stoudemire on the defensive end the rest of the way, and if he does not become more ambitious late in games offensively, the undersized Knicks are going quietly in the first round, especially if the opponent is Kevin Garnett's Celtics.
The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire hauled in just one rebound in 31 minutes in the Knicks' mixed-bag win over the Nets on Wednesday. Stoudemire has admitted to being banged up, worn down from the grind of March.
Winners of two straight after that 1-9 collapse, the Knicks don't resume until Sunday, when the league-worst Cavaliers come to the Garden, brandishing a 3-0 record against the Knicks. Two of Cleveland's wins have occurred since the Carmelo trade nearly six weeks ago. The Knicks' magic number is three games, pending last night's Charlotte result.
The new Knicks, Anthony and Chauncey Billups, may have found themselves. Melo is on a scoring frenzy (36, 39, 39 points) and Billups is regaining strength in his thigh.
Stoudemire looks beat down and invisible in fourth quarters, during which he's shot 14 of 36 (38.9 percent) in the past seven.
"It has maybe been the toughest month I have ever played in my career," Stoudemire said. "So many games. So many back to backs and the makeup game [for the asbestos game, Monday]. It was very, very tough. On top of that, we were trying to get used to our new teammates. Glad this month is over. Now we got to make a playoff push."
Eighteen games in March did not do Stoudemire's body well. He has not experienced any serious knee trouble this season, but he's experienced a lingering shoulder injury, a stinger in his neck, calf issues and ankle problems.
Stoudemire had microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2005 -- the reason his $100 million contract is not insured against a career-ending injury, and why the Suns passed on re-signing him for five years.
With three days off until their next game -- the Knicks did not practice yesterday -- the coaching staff hopes Stoudemire, who's averaging 25.5 points and 8.3 rebounds, will come back freshened. He was constantly pushed out of the way for rebounds vs. the Nets, who battered the Knicks on the boards.
"He knows he has to rebound," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We'll get his legs back and he'll be fine. He knows that's one area where he has to get us consistently close to 10 rebounds. I'm sure he'll be the first one to admit that. We'll get him going, and the schedule now is a little more favorable."
The Knicks' center position is a revolving disaster, as D'Antoni has used Jared Jeffries, hobbled Ronny Turiaf, small forward Shawne Williams and, in the latest move, 6-9 Shelden Williams, the Denver throw-in who actually looks most rugged and capable.
Stoudemire played his share of center earlier in the season, something he does not endorse. He's averaging a career-high in minutes (37), compared to his career average of 34.
Stoudemire's fatigue also could be attributed to the whirlwind of off-court activities -- two Letterman appearances, one George Lopez spot, a Vogue layout in the current issue, countless Page Six mentions with links to Ciara and Amber Rose.
In candid remarks to The Post Sunday, team president Donnie Walsh admitted he hasn't helped Stoudemire's cause by giving him a beastly center to work off of.
"What I see is, I still got to get players to put around him to help him," Walsh said. "He can do what he can do great, but we've asked him to do what's beyond him. I know what I have to add to this team. We need bigger people on the team. We need more of them."
That can't come until the offseason. Stoudemire's mantra is "New York is back." Now it's time, to get his own legs back.
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