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Scott Howard-Cooper

The early-season lift in the legs of Knicks star Amar'e Stoudemire seems to be fading.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Stoudemire's heavy legs a weighty issue for Knicks now

Posted Mar 25 2011 10:29AM

Forget the Carmelo Anthony adjustment. The real issue for the fading Knicks is Amar'e Stoudemire appearing fried with the most important weeks of the season still ahead. Anything to do with Stoudemire and leg strength is a big deal. He's suddenly a guy with no lift as New York desperately needs its one-time MVP candidate to lead a stand after 10 losses in 17 games since Anthony arrived. It's worse than just lost explosiveness. Amar'e clearly had heavy legs Wednesday against the Magic, which impacted his mid-range game as a taxing March schedule took its toll.

The Suns now have a better record than the Knicks, and while playing in a tougher conference. Just maybe a few people in Phoenix have turned toward Manhattan and pointed that out at the top of their lungs. New York will make the playoffs, though, and the Suns may not. And the Nuggets have a better record than 'Melo, Chauncey Billups and the Knicks.


Except: The Nuggets will miss Anthony and Billups. The post-trade response is admirable and all, with Denver in fifth place in the Western Conference when most predicted they would slide into rebuilding mode. But the playoffs are about stars and closers much more than the regular season. Anthony was a go-to offensive threat and Billups was a leader nicknamed Mr. Big Shot. No matter how good the moment feels, the Nuggets shouldn't be celebrating the departures just yet.

No matter how determined he is to prove his case and how much he wants to beat the Clippers after feeling years of loyalty were tossed aside, anyone who knows Elgin Baylor understands the wrongful-termination lawsuit is a miserable experience for someone who prefers staying in the background. To some in the courtroom as the trial has progressed, plaintiff Baylor on the stand was practically painful to watch as the team's attorney picked his words apart. Fish in a barrel. Baylor is a man of warmth, humor and loyalty and a joy to be around, but the instant a tape recorder or TV camera clicked on, even in the few good moments of his executive years, he could do uncomfortable like nobody else.

• Two more games, and then the worst of it will be over for the Grizzlies. They're at Chicago tonight and home for San Antonio on Sunday, but from there finish with eight games against six opponents with a combined .408 winning percentage. That stretch includes five contests against the four worst teams in the West: the Warriors, Timberwolves, Clippers and Kings. Overcoming the loss of Rudy Gay feels likely, not possible. Even if Memphis has the Hornets twice and the Blazers once, there isn't another opponent the rest of the way with a chance to pass the Grizzlies in the standings.

• While shooting 51.9 percent and averaging 17.7 points in just 24 minutes a game was an encouraging tournament return for Duke guard Kyrie Irving and his possible future as the No. 1 pick in the Draft, he couldn't have hurt his stock anyway. If he had bombed, NBA teams would have easily dismissed it as a player working his way back from a toe injury that cost him all but eight regular-season games. If he was good, he already had been. The only potential hit was if the injury resurfaced and prompted increased scrutiny about a chronic problem. When that didn't happen, Irving remained on path for a top-three selection. Depending on individual workouts and needs of the team that wins the lottery, he is still perhaps the first choice in what all season has been a wide-open Draft.

• Still not sold on Derrick Williams of Arizona as the No. 1 pick, even after the resume-building 32 points and 13 rebounds against Duke in the Sweet 16. Williams has gone from being projected for late in the first round at the start of the season to the top five and even getting looks at the top spot, making him one of the success stories of the college season, but the NBA will almost always take a skilled, mature point guard like Irving over a tweener forward in the Danny Granger mold unless Williams kills at the individual workouts. Front offices love the way Williams has improved his body and added range to package with strength in the post and athleticism. "The real deal," one scout said.

• "It was a big risk," coach Rick Adelman said of the Rockets shaking up the roster by trading Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks in separate deals while hoping to remain in the playoff hunt. "We lost two of our best players. But our guys have responded. We talked about it and we feel like you can't do anything about that. You've got the team we have and we have the capability of winning, and that's all we've talked about. So far, that's how they've responded. You can't do anything about the past. You can only deal with today."

• USA Basketball considered sneaking in a mini-camp for young players in June, before the lockout begins July 1, but passed once it became obvious the idea was too complicated because of the postseason schedule and the looming work stoppage. No big deal. Team USA hoped to develop continuity for the players working their way up through the system and hoping to be part of the next Dream Team wave, but the defending Olympic gold medalists and world champions don't have any 2011 competitions anyway. Their next event is the 2012 London Games.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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