LAS VEGAS, Feb. 18, 2007 -- Midway through the third quarter of the 56th NBA All-Star Game, I saw Amare Stoudemire throw down a dunk and, as he was running down the floor, I realized that I don't even think of his knees any more. Seriously, has STAT's microfracture surgery crossed your mind in the last couple of months?

After the game, I found Jason Kidd, another microfracture alumnus, back by the locker rooms chatting with Steve Nash. I asked Jason if, when he sees Amare play, he thinks about the surgery.

"No," Kidd said. "I was just telling Steve that."

"No, not any more," Tim Duncan agreed. "I think he's taken it out of everybody's mind. You can see his athleticism is back and he's able to get up and over and put down a few dunks. It was impressive tonight."

It seems that Amare's 28 points, nine boards and two blocks while shooting 14-of-22 from the field made more than me take notice.

Back during Europe Live, there were questions about whether or not Stoudemire could return to form this season. Most of those questions were coming from his coach.

"There was no questions," Mike D'Antoni corrected me when I spoke to him after tonight's game. "I didn't think he was gonna do it."

But despite inconsistent play, Amare said he would make the All-Star Game. And a lot of us had serious doubts. The explosiveness would be there one day ... and gone the next.

"I don't know how many people believed him," D'Antoni said, "but the most important thing is that he believed it and he did it. It's a hell of a story."

The story is far from over, but Amare made it to Las Vegas. And he wasn't one of the four injury replacements for the West either. The coaches voted him (and his 19.9 points, 9.5 boards and .590 field goal percentage) in as the first center off the bench.

There are no more questions. Amare is back.

But when did the turnaround come about? D'Antoni says it came when he decides to start STAT despite his own reservations.

"I heard that he kinda wanted to start and I said, 'I don't know' because he's just not playing well ... and we started him against San Antonio in about the fifth game, and he just exploded. He had a great game and just kept getting better everyday."

"It was a long, hard ride this offseason and even this season, but I'm finally back," Amare confirmed.

And now, his coach is definitely a believer.

"I thought he was gonna do something special tonight," D'Antoni told me.

Taking Care of Business

Most players will tell you that the first half of an All-Star Game is for show and that the second half is winning time.

But tonight, the West took care of business before the break, scoring 79 points in the first half to lead by 20 as the players made their way back to the locker rooms.

Down 15-14 midway through the first quarter, the West went on a 21-10 run fueled by their bench, specifically Carmelo Anthony (six points) and Amare Stoudemire (nine points). That gave them a 10-point lead and they built on that through the second period as Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen caught fire (shooting a combined 7-of-9 in the period).

More importantly, the West did enough on the other end of the floor to keep the East at bay. They were more active defensively, getting countless deflections and forcing 10 East turnovers in the first half.

The game was never close after that.