HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Dallas Mavericks losing All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki for anywhere from six to eight weeks after knee surgery isn’t quite the same as the New York Knicks losing their All-Star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire for two to three weeks with a ruptured popliteal cyst behind his left knee.
Not even in the NBA, where numbers often lie, can anyone show you the complicated math that makes these losses equal for two teams that most pundits expected to scrap for their playoff lives all season.
But if we were going on theories alone, it could be argued that Stoudemire’s absence could be even more devastating for the Knicks. Thanks to supersized local expectations and the fact that Kurt Thomas, complete with his NBAAARP membership card in hand, will struggle mightily to replace Stoudemire in the Knicks’ lineup, even if it is for just half the time that the Mavericks will have to find a suitable replacement for Nowitzki, the Knicks will be tested in Stoudemire’s absence.
They kick the season off with games against the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers (back-to-back) and the Nowitzki-less Mavericks. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd should be able to handle much of the heavy lifting in Stoudemire’s absence.
That said, this is a much different situation and Knicks team than the one that survived significant injuries to both Stoudemire and Anthony to secure a playoff bid. For one, there is no Jeremy Lin on the roster to shake things up this time around. And as solid as Thomas has been throughout his career, asking him to produce numbers like Stoudemire does is simply unrealistic.
Complicating matters for Stoudemire and the Knicks is his history of knee troubles. He had microfracture surgery on the same knee in 2005 and missed all but three games of the 2005-06 season. Combined with partially detached retina in his right eye and a lower back injury suffered in the playoffs two years ago and bothered him at various points into last season, Knicks fans would be justified in worrying about Stoudemire’s health going forward.
There is no indication that this latest injury is anything more than momentary interruption to his season, an injury-induced delay of sorts. And he has put up stellar numbers in the seasons that followed his microfracture procedure, averaging 20-plus points and 8-plus rebounds in his final four seasons in Phoenix and his first season with the Knicks before tailing off last season (17.5 and 7.8).
The 15 games he missed with injuries during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season had nothing to do with his knees, but that won’t help Knicks coach Mike Woodson sleep any better at night.
Considering the competition and what they’ll throw at the Knicks at power forward during that opening stretch, Woodson might be wise to use Anthony at power forward anyway. He’d have a quickness edge on most nights and could match up favorably against the Heat, who plan to use LeBron James at power forward at times throughout the course of this season.
Anthony is more than capable of handling the job temporarily, as we all saw last season. He played some of his best basketball during that 13-game season ending stretch when Stoudemire was struggling with a bulging disc in his lower back. With the paint as his playground and no Stoudemire to share it with, Anthony stretch the floor and exploited his mismatches against bigger defenders on the regular.
Anthony will have to keep it up for another two to three weeks, until Stoudemire returns, if the Knicks want to survive their tough opener stretch.