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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
W2W4: Knicks vs. Nets

By Jared Zwerling

Amare Stoudemire has only missed one game the entire season, and that was against the Nets on February 12, when he was suffering from a sprained right big toe. But the Knicks still managed to win, thanks to their 16 3-pointers. It was their third-highest total in a game this season (they had 20 against the Grizzlies on March 17 and 17 against the Suns on January 7).

Now, Stoudemire is in some pain again. After the Knicks knocked off the Magic Monday night, Stoudemire told a friend in the locker room that his hip and feet were "killing" him after he played more than 44 minutes (the sixth time this month he's played more than 40).

"It's been maybe the hardest month I've played in my career," Stoudemire told reporters. "So many games, so many back-to-backs. And then they threw in the makeup game [for the November game against Orlando canceled due to an asbestos scare] in this month. So it was very, very tough. And on top of that, we're trying to get used to our new teammates. So it was a tough one for us."

Mike D'Antoni canceled practice yesterday to help soothe Stoudemire, who will be playing tonight against the Nets, the third-worst road team this season with a 5-31 record (the Wizards are 2-35 and the Timberwolves are 5-32). Here are three Knicks-related things to watch for at the Garden when the ball is tipped.

AMARE'S AGGRESSIVENESS

After the Knicks-Magic game, in which Stoudemire failed to reach his 25.6 scoring average for the fourth time in five games, Dwight Howard said this about his East All-Star teammate: "I just don't see him as aggressive as he used to be ... But now teams are keying in on him and making it a little tough, so he just has to be aggressive and just find another way to score." After Carmelo Anthony had back-to-back 30+ point outings (the first Knick since Stephon Marbury in 2007 to score 35 or more points in two straight games), there is no question who the main catalyst of the team is, but now Stoudemire has to alleviate some of the pressure off Melo, just like Melo did for STAT when he was traded.

FIRST-HALF DEFENSE

What was hurting the Knicks the most during their six-game losing streak -- end-of-game defensive stops -- turned out to be the ultimate difference Monday night, as the Knicks held the Magic to just six points in overtime (the Knicks scored 13). Tonight, the Knicks should be able to carry that over to the first half, especially since the Nets have had the worst average halftime scoring margin in the league in their previous three games (-18). Last night in a 112-87 loss to the Rockets, after the Nets were leading 19-17 in the first quarter, the Rockets went on a 22-2 run to go up 39-21 with about 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. And Houston never had a problem after that.

THE LANDLORD ON LOPEZ

This season, Nets coach Avery Johnson has called out his center Brook Lopez for playing with too much finesse at times, and not enough fight. Well, Lopez better bring the muscle tonight because his defender, Shelden Williams, just faced Superman and was able to limit him to just four points in the first half. Unfortunately, Williams won't have much help tonight because Ronny Turiaf (sore ankle) is out and Shawne Williams (back spasms) is doubtful. But at least Williams has the benefit of guarding a seven-footer who only averages 5.9 rebounds, and not 14.3 like Howard does.

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What to watch for from the Nets tonight? I spoke with ESPNNewYork.com's Nets blogger Mike Mazzeo to get the 411.

WILL-ING TO RETURN

During point guard Deron Williams' six-game absence with an injured right wrist, the Nets have gone just 1-5. With D-Will returning tonight, Mike is curious to see how he shoots tonight. While he was 45.8 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point territory with the Jazz, he's sunk to 32.7 and 28.6 percent in those categories with the Nets. Mike says to also pay close attention to how he creates off his deadly crossover dribble (arguably the league's best) and his penetration-kickout playmaking with Anthony Morrow and Sasha Vujacic on the wings.

PERIMETER PROTECTION

Mike says Johnson has referred to Williams, Damion James, Quinton Ross and Sundiata Gaines as his four-best perimeter defenders, but James (foot), Ross (herniated disk in his back) and Gaines (hip) are all out tonight. Only Williams is suiting up. That's not a good sign at all for the Nets, considering the Knicks knocked down 16 3-pointers in their last meeting.

KRIS ON STAT

The last time the Knicks and Nets met on February 12, Nets power forward Kris Humphries was on the verge of his breakout streak. From February 26 to March 20, Humphries (still better known as Kim Kardashian's beau) had 10 consecutive double-doubles, and in three of those games he had four blocks or more. While Stoudemire is coming off a full day of rest, during what he has called "the hardest month I've played in my career," he won't have it any easier tonight facing a very physical and improved Humphries.

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