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There have been many maddening parts of this Knicks season, but none more maddening than watching Amar'e Stoudemire play on a nightly basis.
Watching him brick open midrange jumpers, get stuffed repeatedly on dunkable tries near the basket and rebound at a rate befitting a pygmy power forward made you wonder if last year was simply a mirage.
It also made you wonder just how the Knicks are going to keep playing with a guy whose game had disappeared over the final three years of his uninsured contract.
Stoudemire didn't make things better by repeatedly insisting that there were better days right around the corner. He was cutting weight and feeling more secure with his recovering back, you see, so the fact that the results were just as dismal didn't really mean a thing.
It might be time to stop doubting Stoudemire. He looked a lot like the Amar'e of old in Wednesday night's rock fight of an 82-79 win over the 76ers, the fifth straight Knicks win and one that drew them within three games of the Atlantic Division lead.
Stoudemire made jumpers, he ran the floor alertly and, most pleasingly, finished with abandon on a night when his teammates couldn't get on track offensively. He dunked several times and had no problem elevating through defenders to put the ball down their throats with the kind of dunks we grew accustomed to seeing in his first year with the Knicks.
There have been other signs of progress in the last few games as Stoudemire, like Carmelo Anthony, seemed to rediscover some fire in the wake of Mike D'Antoni's departure. He had so much fire on Wednesday night that he actually chased down Elton Brand from behind for a demoralizing blocked shot in the fourth quarter.
That leads us to the other old school portion of the Knicks evening. Winning against the Sixers required the Knicks to channel the teams of Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy by fighting through the ugliness on offense while shutting things down on the other side of the floor.
Mission accomplished. The Knicks defense helped the Sixers miss their first 14 shots from the floor and continued its shocking turnaround from the D'Antoni days with a smothering effort from another era.
The most impressive part of it might have been that the team closed out the game without their best defensive player as Mike Woodson kept Tyson Chandler on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Matchups certainly worked in favor of that move as Philly went small, but it also might have just been that Woodson thought the Knicks got extra credit for degree of difficulty if he went with J.R. Smith (who shot like merely attempting buckets got you points) instead of the Knicks' spiritual leader.
They don't get that extra credit, of course, but they certainly earned it. On a night when two breakdowns would have meant the game, the Knicks had almost none in key spots and the defense carried them to another win.
For so much of this season, the Knicks have folded the second that things started going against them during a game. They didn't do that on Wednesday during the kind of slogging, plodding game that would seem to favor the opposition.
They did it by reaching into the past and getting the job done, providing a little more reason to believe in the good things lasting a little bit longer this time around in the process.