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Court Vision: Stoudemire's return raises questions about defense, not attitude

Amar'e Stoudemire Amar'e Stoudemire scored 6 points on 3-of-8 shooting in his season debut for the Knicks. (Elsa/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

• Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reports from Amar'e Stoudemire's season debut for the Knicks against the Blazers on Tuesday. Stoudemire had been sidelined for months with a knee injury.

"I was nervous," Stoudemire admitted. "My heart was beating fast. I had butterflies in my stomach. I felt like I was a rookie all over again."

Finally, with 3:31 remaining in the opening quarter, it happened: Stoudemire, two months removed from left knee surgery, eight months from his last NBA game, made his season debut, playing 17 minutes in New York's 105-100 loss to Portland and kicking off a pivotal stretch of the Knicks' season.

Ultimately, it didn't matter what Stoudemire did for the Knicks on Tuesday. The Blazers have an All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge and a vastly improved center in J.J. Hickson, both of whom took turns humiliating Stoudemire defensively. Aldridge drove past him on the perimeter, Hickson outworked him in the paint. Stoudemire was rusty and, said Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams in a halftime interview, "looked mixed up." He missed his first four shots, finishing 3-for-8 from the floor, and collected just one rebound.

"The game," Stoudemire said, "felt like it was going 100 miles an hour."

•Seth at Posting and Toasting writes that -- surprise, surprise -- Stoudemire's defense wasn't up to snuff in game one.

(And while Amar'e Stoudemire can hopefully provide some better weak side help, his pick-and-roll defense seems likely to cause even more problems. It definitely did tonight.).

...

I missed Amar'e and expect those offensive ills to heal considerably with repetition, but I did not miss the paralyzed ball-watching while someone soars past him for an easy dunk and have little hope that he'll improve in that regard. At this point, it's just about finding the right lineups to augment Stoudemire's assets and allay his weaknesses. A healthy Rasheed Wallace might help.

Jared Zwerling of ESPNNY.com reports that Stoudemire is fully ready to pass the puck when it comes to his defense, as he took a veiled dig at former coach Mike D'Antoni.

"I think just having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help," he said. "I've never been taught defense in my whole career, so to now have a coach that actually teaches defense and teaches strategies, and knows positioning and posture, how to guard different plays, it's going to be helpful. I'm going to take it as a challenge, and I'm going to accept the challenge and try to improve as a player."

• Ken Berger of CBSSports.com writes that, all in all, Stoudemire is buying into the program.

"I didn't want to interrupt anything at all," Stoudemire said. "Those guys have been playing well all season. So however coach feels my role fits, then that's when I'm going to get to play. If he needs me, I'm there. If not and those guys are playing well, then we'll take that as well."

The Knicks couldn't ask for a less disruptive, more positive approach from a multi-year All-Star -- the only one who dared accept the burden of uplifting the Knicks in 2010 -- than what they've gotten from Stoudemire. Coach Mike Woodson did the right thing here, bringing him off the bench and easing him back in slowly. As for when Stoudemire might warrant or deserve his rightful place in the starting lineup, Woodson said, "We'll figure that out as we go along."

Let one thing be clear: No pressure, no disruption will come from Stoudemire. The pro that New York got two years ago when he filled the free-agent vacuum left when LeBron James chose South Beach over Madison Square Garden is the same pro who checked into his first game of the season with 3:31 left in the first quarter Tuesday night.

• Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com reports that Kobe Bryant got straight to the point in assessing the Lakers after a Tuesday loss to the Sixers.

"Cause we're old as s---," said the 34-year-old Bryant when asked why a lack of energy has been a problem for the Lakers all season. "What do you want? We just got to figure out how to play when we don't have that energy. We got to change things up a little bit defensively. We got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights when we don't have those legs or have that energy."

• Scott Sterling, son of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, has died. The Associated Press reports the death is being called a "possible drug overdose."

• Stephen Jackson was too much to handle for Bucks coach Scott Skiles. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News reports that Jackson has some parting shots for his former team.

“I just wanted to be around a positive organization that’s used to winning and plays the game the right way,” Jackson says now. “Milwaukee, they’re not used to winning. I just wasn’t going to go for it at the end of my career.”

“It just wasn’t a good situation for me,” said Jackson, who still keeps in touch with former Bucks teammates Drew Gooden and Brandon Jennings. “I didn’t want to be a part of no rebuilding team.”

• For the true blue basketball nerds out there, Mark Deeks runs down the best available D-League talent, including the ex-NBA likes of Chris Quinn, Christian Eyenga and Jamario Moon.

• Check out Rob Mahoney's comprehensive All-Improvement team here at The Point Forward.

• Tom Haberstroh writes on ESPN Insider that the corner three-pointer is the "most important" shot in hoops, noting that the Heat and Spurs are among the teams most centered around setting up the shot.

Believe it or not, a team's frequency of corner 3s is more closely linked to successful offenses than the frequency of shots in the restricted area, even though they boast similar payoffs (1.16 points per shot versus 1.19 points per shot, respectively). In fact, when we look at shot frequency from the five shot areas on the floor designated by NBA.com's StatsCube -- restricted-area, in the paint non-restricted-area, midrange, corner 3s and above-the-break 3s -- the strongest correlation with offensive efficiency over the past 17 seasons is the corner 3-pointer.

• Celtics guard Avery Bradley is set to return, finally, from a shoulder injury that ended his 2011-12 season prematurely, writes Jason Mastrodonato for the Boston Globe.

“Just like any other day, I’m going to prepare today, go through practice, go over the plays and make sure I know what’s going on,” Bradley said Tuesday. “Tomorrow I’ll go out and play like I can. Prepare like I normally do.

“I’m excited, the team is excited, I’m sure the fans are excited. I’m just going to go out there and play Celtics basketball.”

• Royce Young of DailyThunder.com explores Russell Westbrook's inconsistent shooting.

With Westbrook, the mid-range game is off, but he’s also not finishing. And it’s killing his shooting percentage, which is down to 40.4 percent, close to his rookie level of 39.8 percent.

Part of it is that Westbrook lacks consistency. Consider this: Westbrook hasn’t had back-to-back games where he’s shot 50 percent or above from the floor yet this season. In fact, Westbrook has only hit 50 percent of his shots six games out of 30.

• Tom Ziller of SB Nation likes what Brook Lopez is giving this year.

Lopez was one of three Class of 2008 draft products to sign a max deal last summer as restricted free agents, along with Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert. Needless to say, Gordon nor Hibbert have played up to their deals. Lopez pretty much has: he's averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game, and the Nets are much, much better when he's on the floor. Health was going to be a concern due to his 61 missed games last season; Lopez has played in 24 of Brooklyn's 31 games, and in near the 50 percent mark in percentage of possible minutes played. (Starters should be between 50 and 70 percent.)

Lopez is much better on offense than defense, but it's worth noting that the Nets have been three points per 100 possessions better defensively with the center on the court.

• Zach Lowe writes at Grantland that his two favorites for Defensive Player of the Year are Grizzlies center Marc Gasol and Bulls center Joakim Noah.

That leaves Gasol and Noah as heavy-minutes anchors on two of the league's best defensive teams, and in what amounts to a coin flip, I'm going with Gasol's space-eating size over Noah's productive mania. It's worth noting that even the candidacies of these two stalwarts bring complications, since each plays significant minutes with two very good defenders -- [Tony] Allen and Mike Conley in Memphis, and Luol Deng and Taj Gibson in Chicago. Separating contributions on defense is notoriously difficult. But an elite big trumps an elite wing, and these two are as steady as it gets in the NBA; I'm not sure there's a larger gap between the level of nationwide fan appreciation for a player and the level of appreciation from coaches/scouts/league executives for that player than the gap for Gasol. People inside the league adore this guy.
• Michael McCann wonders whether the Rockets should loan Royce White to a foreign team after he rejected  a D-League assignment, calling it "unsafe."

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