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Stoudemire’s status uncertain as back pain increases

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 24, 2011

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TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — It was an innocuous move, one Amar’e Stoudemire performs before most games during warm-ups, one that shouldn’t have left him injured. He touched the backboard with his left hand before Game 2, while dunking with his right. He felt something pull in his back. He played that night, but wasn’t the same. He still isn’t.

In Friday night’s Game 3 loss to the Celtics, Stoudemire said he was at less than 50 percent. And yesterday, the Knicks power forward said the pain was even worse, leaving him unsure if he’ll be able to play this afternoon, even with his team on the brink of elimination.

“I was pretty much in pain the whole game, from start to finish,’’ Stoudemire said. “I just don’t want to further injure the injury. We understand how bright the future is here with the organization. It’s a great first step for us as a franchise and what we’re trying to accomplish. We want to continue that success here the next few years, so we don’t want to further damage anything by overdoing it.

“So, I just want to make a smart decision. If I feel better tomorrow, then we’ll see how it goes. If not, then hopefully we can still get a win.’’

It almost sounded as if Stoudemire was conceding that the Knicks were in too deep a hole to take such a risk. Stoudemire emphasized, over and over, that there was the potential of making the strain of his lower back worse. He said he had just three days to heal from an injury that normally requires three weeks.

“That game was big for us,’’ Stoudemire said of Game 3. “Getting the win would have been huge, but we didn’t follow through with that. This is a back injury that takes three weeks to heal . . . The training staff is doing a great job of treating it around the clock, trying to get back in three days. It’s the playoffs, and I was willing to play [Friday] night, and we’ll see how it feels [for Game 4].’’

Stoudemire is clearly frustrated. But with point guard Chauncey Billups already doubtful for Game 4, according to coach Mike D’Antoni, would it be worth it to play Stoudemire?

“I don’t know,’’ D’Antoni said. “That’s where it gets in a gray area that we’ve got to make some calls. He wants to push through. So if he wants to do it, then I want to go with him.

“He took us from this summer to where we are right now. If he feels like he wants to do it, we’ll talk about it. He has to have a gauge of that. But I’m sticking with him. I’m going with Amar’e. So be it if he’s not up to par. He deserves to give it his best.’’

Stoudemire couldn’t on Friday, as the Knicks came out flat and couldn’t rally. They were down two of their three stars, to just Carmelo Anthony, and he couldn’t win the game by himself, as he nearly did in Game 2.

“What makes it frustrating is after Game 1 we had a great chance to win the series,’’ Stoudemire said. “We felt we had a great chance to win that game and I was totally ready to go, to dominate for the rest of the series. I was ready to dominate.’’

He didn’t. Instead, on Friday, the Celtics did. And if Stoudemire is out again this afternoon, they might just finish the series in similar fashion.

“You have to overcome it,’’ D’Antoni said. “It doesn’t matter what the situation is. We’ve got to play with more energy, more urgency, and get it done. We can do that. We can beat these guys. We’ve got to believe that, and we’ve got to do it Sunday.’’

But can they?

“At this point in time we’ve got to lay it out there on the court,’’ Anthony said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, the X’s and O’s go out the window. We’ve got to fight. It’s a war, it’s a battle, and the most important thing is just how much pride we’ve got. I don’t want to get swept, we don’t want to get swept. So we’ve got to go out there and just leave it all out there on the court, see what happens.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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