TORONTO -- It was supposed to be Carmelo Anthony who shined and Jeremy Lin who would fade in the wake of the coaching change for the Knicks. But Anthony has struggled and Lin has been just fine.
The real change, though, has come from an unlikely source. Amar'e Stoudemire was a vocal advocate for Mike D'Antoni before he departed, having been a player who flourished in Phoenix under D'Antoni. But he'd struggled all season, looking as if he'd lost his explosiveness and athleticism.
The move to Mike Woodson as the new coach looked like an odd fit for Stoudemire, with a defensive-minded coach inheriting a player whose strength never has been on that end of the court. But in the first five games, all victories, Stoudemire has been a revelation, averaging team highs of 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds.
"My rhythm is back," Stoudemire said. "My strength is back. My timing is back. Again, I rehabbed my back the whole lockout, didn't play basketball -- contact basketball -- for six months; the most I was ever away in my life, since I was a little kid. I feel great."
In the last two games Stoudemire has piled up 22 and 21 points on 16-of-27 shooting. But it's been more than that. Stoudemire has joined in the defensive effort, coming up with a big fourth-quarter block on Elton Brand on Wednesday. He chased down the Sixers' big man from behind to sweep away a layup.
It's not just numbers or plays that show up in the box score. Stoudemire has been playing with an aggressive nature, pulling down rebounds and swinging elbows, slamming in dunks and posing for the crowd.
"This is my game," Stoudemire said. "This is who I am, an aggressive, explosive player. Always have been. That's not going to change. I feel great. It's not going to change.
"From a leadership standpoint I was very vocal and leading by example. (Wednesday), the magnitude of the game, I was really able to get my point across and play well."
Stoudemire shrugged off questions about if he was doing this for Woodson.
"We're playing this way for ourselves," he said. "We're playing this way for the city of New York, the state of New York. Coach Woodson is obviously our general. He has the game plan for us, but as comrades we've got to go out there and play as hard as we can and get these wins. That's what we're doing."