Does a Healthy Amar'e Stoudemire Give NY Knicks Edge Over Miami Heat?

Ciaran GowanContributor IIIFebruary 1, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden on January 3, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Knicks defeated the Spurs 100-83.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Through the first half of the season, only a few games separate the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat at the top of the surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference.

But after missing the majority of the campaign so far, the Knicks will be hoping that the return of a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire will give them the edge over the defending champs, both in the second half of the regular season and in the playoffs.

Despite a shaky start—which can be linked directly to the fact that January has seen his first taste of competitive action for eight months—Stoudemire has been playing efficiently in recent games, providing the scoring punch off the bench the Knicks were looking for.

Over his last seven games, Stoudemire has been averaging 15.9 points. On the surface, that's not particularly impressive, but when you take into account the fact that it has come on 65 percent shooting and in only 23.4 minutes of action per game, it suddenly looks like a fantastic contribution.

With the combination of Stoudemire's bench production and Carmelo Anthony's MVP-level play, J.R. Smith's career-year and a bunch of fantastic shooters, the Knicks offense has the potential to be one of the hardest to handle in the NBA, even for the Heat.

In fact, we saw even before Stoudemire made his return to action that the Knicks can cause the Heat some serious problems, with two 20-point victories over them already this season. Though you can't put too much stock into regular-season encounters, the Knicks definitely made a statement in those two games.

Whilst most people will remember the Knicks' five-game series loss to the Heat in the 2012 playoffs as a better indicator of how the two teams match up, we must remember that due to the substantial injury list at the time, that really isn't the case.

Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis, Jeremy Lin, Tyson Chandler and of course, Amar'e Stoudemire all struggled with health issues, and the Knicks hadn't yet made the major acquisitions of Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.

Thinking about it that way, there is some merit to looking at the regular season for a more realistic view of how the two teams compare.

In the one playoff game that the Knicks did win against the Heat last year, it took a huge 41-point performance from Melo to get the job done. But what went under the radar is that Stoudemire also scored 20 in that game, opening things up for his teammate with efficient and timely scoring.

Much as he has been these last few weeks, Stoudemire was opportunistic with his offense, allowing for Melo to take over whilst also providing a trustworthy secondary option.

With a player like LeBron James likely guarding Melo, having Stoudemire again playing that role will be a huge boost offensively.

As good as Miami is, New York has been structured so it can attack the Heat's weaknesses, as trying to match fire with fire against the most talented trio of players in basketball just won't work.

We have already seen the Knicks try to do this with shooting, penetration from Felton and "vertical spacing" from Chandler in the pick-and-roll, but a healthy Stoudemire also fits into this plan.

When healthy, Stoudemire is still a physical force, and with LeBron tied up with Melo, the Heat don't have a player who can match up with him in that regard.

More to the point, the presence of Stoudemire gives the Knicks the flexibility to go big if their outside shots aren't falling, and doing so could force the Heat to adjust and move away from the small, position-less lineup they've had so much success with over the past year.

With Stoudemire on the bench, the Knicks' second line is much stronger than that of the Heat, which will make a big difference in the remaining regular-season meetings. That said, it's unclear how big a difference that will make in the playoffs. 

On the whole, the Heat are still the superior team to the Knicks. They are top of the conference for a reason, and you have to respect the fact that they are the NBA champions and have the best player in the world on the court for the majority of every game.

A healthy Stoudemire, however, does bring the Knicks a lot closer to the Heat, and though they may not be better, it does give them a chance to win by attacking their weaknesses.

If the two were to meet in the playoffs this year, expect a much more competitive series and for Stoudemire to have a big say in whether or not the Knicks can cause an upset.

Stats used in this article were accurate as of Jan. 31, 2013.