- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Lakers Hall of Famer said Friday morning on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" that the Knicks pose a legitimate threat to the Heat in the Eastern Conference -- especially if Amar'e Stoudemire accepts a role off of Mike Woodson's bench.
"This is the team that's going to give the Heat the most trouble because they have the perimeter players," Johnson said on the radio show. "They're the best defensive team in basketball right now; they have become the best passing team in basketball and they're playing with great confidence. This Knicks team is playing together.
"That's why they're going to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference Finals."
Johnson said the Knicks' perimeter players -- Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert -- will give the Heat's duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade trouble, which is a rarity among Eastern Conference teams.
"That's been the problem with teams in the East. Nobody could match up those two guys. Nobody had enough perimeter guys, even if they got into foul trouble, to sustain guarding them," Johnson, an ESPN analyst, said.
Johnson credited Knicks coach Mike Woodson and GM Glen Grunwald for putting a complete team together that can compete with the Heat.
He said Felton is the most improved player in the league thus far and Smith, a nine-year veteran, is playing his best basketball for the Knicks.
Johnson also noted that the Knicks will have a legitimate chance to win an NBA title if Amar'e Stoudemire accepts a role off of Woodson's bench.
Stoudemire has been sidelined for the entire regular season as he rehabs his surgically-repaired left knee.
There has been widespread speculation over Stoudemire's role when he returns. Many feel it would benefit the Knicks if Stoudemire comes in off the bench, to avoid interrupting any chemistry the 14-4 Knicks have established in his absence.
"Amar'e Stoudemire has got to come off the bench be happy with that role because if he does that I'll tell you this right now, the Knicks have a chance to win the championship and that's for real," Johnson said.
Johnson believes Stoudemire has no choice but to accept the role. Sources close to Stoudemire told ESPN New York recently that Stoudemire would accept any role that Woodson asks him to play.
"He's going to have to accept it. Why? Because this team is playing well," Johnson said. "Do you want to be the guy who comes, in New York now, for the team that everybody loves, you be the guy that comes in and says I'm going to demand to start and then the team starts losing?
"He's got to say, you know what? This team is playing great I'm going to play any role that they want me to play if that's coming off the bench, if that's going to help us own a championship," Johnson added. "...This is not about his ego because his ego will be (fine) if they win the championship."
15dKevin Pelton and Chad Ford