Perkins: Knicks-Heat will offer more insight on whether Stoudemire is needed

MIAMI – LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks. 

The NBA’s next big Thursday Night game is right around the corner.

Forget about San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his $250,000 act of defiance. That’s sooooo last week.

The Knicks are coming to South Beach. And this game has meaning.

It will give us another chance to consider how much New York needs Amar’e Stoudemire, and in what role.

The Knicks (13-4) have closed the gap on the Heat (12-4), evidenced by their better record. This time, it’s not Big Apple bluster. It’s for real. New York might actually be able to threaten Miami in a best-of-seven.

Here’s the thing: The Knicks are playing good defense, better than the Heat.

New York is eighth at 94.7 points per game; Miami is 20th at 99.5 points per game.

We all know things are different in a best-of-seven. It’s mostly about matchups. The point is the Knicks are a good defensive team. We’ve known they could score down the stretch. They have ’Melo. He’s one of the best in the league at clutch scoring.

But now it appears New York can get stops down the stretch, which is huge in playoff basketball.

All that stuff last season about the Knicks’ Big Three of Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler challenging Miami was fantasyland. They went down to the Heat in five games in the first round. The Knicks were lopsided, top-heavy. It’s a perimeter game.

This season, with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt, New York has a nice thing going. Add Ronnie Brewer, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith and it’s a nice perimeter combination.

Among Anthony, Chandler, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas, they are OK up front, good enough to go against the Heat.

That brings us to the big concern about what happens when Stoudemire returns. There is talk he could return on Christmas. Stoudemire reportedly has said, through a source close to him, that he wouldn’t mind coming off the bench.

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