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

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So let’s assume the best. Let’s say Stoudemire comes off the bench and plays well with Anthony, even in the fourth quarter. Let’s say Stoudemire’s return makes the Knicks better.

Think about that as you watch Heat-Knicks on Thursday night. It should be enough to concern Heat fans.

The Heat remain the better team. The defending champs still have the best “Big Three” in the NBA in James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That’s a tough matchup for any team. And Ray Allen has almost had a season’s worth of highlights with his late-game shots.

But a lot depends on what kind of element Stoudemire adds.

If he is cooperative, defers to Anthony and tries to fit in rather than stand out, the Knicks could be a legitimate challenger for the Eastern Conference title. And beyond that, who knows?

Stoudemire isn’t the athletic wonder he was years ago. We know the knee problems have robbed him. He’s still a uniquely gifted player. He can be a key contributor to a title-contending team.

To a certain extent, it’s up to Knicks coach Mike Woodson to work Stoudemire into the fold. He has to convince Stoudemire that his role – whatever it is – gives him the best chance to get a ring. It might have been easier getting ‘Melo to play defense.

For the most part, though, this whole thing rests with Stoudemire and his actions. You’d have to think he’s essential personnel when it comes to beating the Heat in a best-of-seven and possibly winning a title, which the Knicks haven’t done in 40 years.

But there’s also reason to believe the Knicks might not even need him. Well, not much.

Both teams appeared to be looking ahead a bit. The Knicks needed a buzzer-beater by J.R. Smith to win Wednesday’s game at Charlotte, while the Heat will be playing for just the fifth time in 19 days and coming off Tuesday’s inexplicable loss at Washington, another example of how the inactivity may be costing them their edge. So this is a good look at both teams and how they match up.

Win or lose, it should go pretty well for the Knicks on Thursday. The thing to keep in mind as you watch, however, is how much better the Knicks would be with Stoudemire in the fold.

Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.

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