Mike Woodson’s big hurdle: Fitting Amare Stoudemire back in

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If your biggest problem is how to fit a six-time All-Star who gives you 18 and 8 a night back into the lineup, you should be feeling pretty good about yourself.

But this is the New York Knicks, a team with a rabid fan base and a small margin for error, so even something like brining back Amare Stoudemire to the lineup is seen as a challenge. And potential disaster.

The Knicks are on a hot streak entering the playoffs — including a win over the Celtics Tuesday — and in the next few days they will get Stoudemire back. Likely by Friday. So far, Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony — two guys who like the offense to work through them at times and who like some of the same spots on the floor — have not blended well. John Schuhmann has the numbers at NBA.com, but since last year’s trade the Knicks have been four points per 100 possessions better when Anthony is on the floor without Stoudemire than they have been together. And the defense has been better with just ‘Melo, too.

With coach Mike Woodson admitting that ‘Melo has found a comfort level in the offense right now, and with the Knicks winning, how do you fit Stoudemire in and get him touches without throwing off the rhythm that has been built? Yes, the Knicks went 6-1 with Stoudemire and Melo together when Woodson took over, but this team now is different.

The obvious answer is to keep one of them on the floor at all times and try to stagger their minutes — they are going to have to play together at some points, particularly crunch time, but you can have one on without the other for long stretches.

Which has led CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger and others to suggest bringing Stoudemire off the bench.

He should take a page from the book of Doc Rivers, who had the clout and cojones to leave Avery Bradley in the starting lineup over Ray Allen once the aforementioned future Hall of Famer returned from an ankle injury. How did Rivers do it?

“He just sat me down and said, ‘You’re coming off the bench,'” Allen said.

Woodson has said Stoudemire “absolutely” is starting. As Berger notes, it’s easy for Rivers — with a multi-year deal and the backing of management — to tell a star to come off the bench, it’s tougher for the interim Woodson. At the end of the season he will be the Knicks fallback as coach, owner James Dolan will be reaching for the stars first.

If the Knicks had even a few weeks to work out the kinks with their star combo, this might not be as big a deal. But they are going to have three games or so, then they are going to likely get the Miami Heat in a best of seven series. The only way the Knicks stand a chance is if they are firing on all cylinders and are knocking down shots like they did against Boston.

Mike Woodson, welcome to coaching the Knicks. Never a dull moment, even when your All-Star returns.

Chris Paul appears to kick at … something … while standing over Utah’s Joe Ingles (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers are out of the playoffs.

Once again, due to injury and perhaps a little bit of a curse for LA if you want to go that way, the Clippers found themselves bounced early when expectations were high.

Facing the Utah Jazz in a Game 7 at Staples Center on Sunday, Paul and the Blake Griffin-less Clips couldn’t get it done. The Jazz closed the series, 104-91.

Meanwhile, there was one play late in the game that say Paul give a full kick at … something … with Jazz wing Joe Ingles on the ground.

I’ll let you be the judge:

Big deal? Medium deal? No deal? I guess we will have to find out in case the league makes some kind of comment about it via the L2M on Monday.

Paul Pierce after final NBA game: “I gave every ounce I could, each and every day” (VIDEO)

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That’s it for Paul Pierce.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost in Game 7 of their first round series against the Utah Jazz, and in doing so ended an illustrious 19-year NBA career for The Truth.

Pierce, 39, saw his team go down by a score of 104-91. The former Boston Celtics star also saw time with the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before making his final stop in LA.

After the game, Pierce thanked his fans in every NBA city.

Via Twitter:

Current and former NBA players got in on congratulating Pierce on an incredible career on social media:

Shout out to Paul Pierce for an incredible career.

We meet again: Cavaliers, Raptors back together in postseason

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CLEVELAND (AP) We The North vs. We Are The Champions.

One round earlier than a year ago, Toronto and Cleveland are meeting again in the NBA playoffs.

On the way to winning their first title last season, LeBron James and the Cavs took care of the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals, a series that was tied 2-2 before Cleveland won the final two games. The teams finished this season with identical 51-31 records and their history makes for an intriguing May matchup.

“They know us,” James said, “and we know them.”

After sweeping Indiana in the opening round, the Cavs will have waited a full week before Monday’s Game 1 tips off at Quicken Loans Arena, where Cleveland is 15-1 against conference opponents over the past three postseasons.

The down time gave James and his teammates a chance to recharge, heal some nagging bumps and bruises and prepare for a Toronto team that not only added Serge Ibaka (acquired from Orlando in February) and P.J. Tucker (acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline) this season, but is looking for revenge after having its season ended by Cleveland in 2016.

These Raptors don’t want that to happen again.

“We’ve got some fighters and scrappers,” coach Dwane Casey said after Toronto eliminated Milwaukee in six games. “The guys are going to compete. We make it hard on ourselves sometime, but at the end of the day we’re going to go down swinging.”

They submitted last year in Game 6 at home, when James scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in Cleveland’s 113-87 win.

“He canceled Christmas,” Casey said earlier this season. “One of these days … one of these days.”

For the Raptors to knock off the Cavs, whose shaky defense still showed some significant holes against the Pacers, Toronto stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will have to be at their best.

“The two-headed monster,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.

DeRozan averaged 23.5 points per game in the opening round against the Bucks, and may need to bump that into the 30s for the Raptors to have a chance.

Toronto lost three of four against Cleveland this season with the only win coming in the season finale, when Lue rested James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Here are some other things to keep in mind as James takes another step toward a possible seventh straight trip to the Finals:

ROAD WARRIOR: James loves the road, where he has won at least one game in a record 27 consecutive playoff series.

The three-time champion revels in the discomfort of being booed and hated.

“Home cooking is great; love the home fans for 14 years,” he said. “But I love playing out on the road more than I love playing at home. It’s just a weird thing. I love the adversity. … It’s the bunker mentality of knowing it’s 15 guys plus the coaching staff and whoever there that’s traveled with us against the whole state and the whole city.”

Or in this case, all of Canada.

KYLE IS KEY: Lowry is back to full speed after missing 21 games following surgery on his right wrist. He averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 rebounds against the Bucks, but the Raptors will need more from him to dethrone the Cavs.

Lowry might be able to exploit Cleveland’s suspect perimeter defense and lack of a true rim protector by driving to the basket.

FREE-THROW WOES: After making a career-low 67 percent of his free throws in the regular season, James went only 22 of 38 (58 percent) from the line in the opening round.

None of his misses was too costly, but the pressure only intensifies from here with every make and every miss meaning more.

DEMAR THE STAR: DeRozan can get his shot off any place, any time. Like they did with Paul George in the first round, the Cavs are expected to focus their attention Toronto’s best player, harassing him with double teams to make him give up the ball.

“He’s one of the best one-on-one players in our league right now, and he does a good job of getting to the free-throw line,” Lue said. “His mid-range jumper is automatic and he can also get to the basket where he’s very athletic. He’s a tough cover and we just want to make him make field goals and not free throws and make it hard on him.”

ON THE MOVE: James has been climbing various lists all season and he’s still rising. He enters the series 60 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5.682) for the second place on the career postseason scoring list. Once he passes Mr. Sky Hook, next on the list is His Airness, Michael Jordan (5,987).

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Wizards’ Markieff Morris rolled his ankle so hard he “thought it was broke” (VIDEO)

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The Washington Wizards dropped Game 1 of their semi final round against the Boston Celtics on Sunday. A big part of that loss was the absence of Markieff Morris, who turned his ankle with just a few minutes to go in the first quarter.

Morris was shooting a jumper from the left elbow extended with Boston’s Al Horford contesting. Horford didn’t give Morris enough of a chance to land, and a foul was called.

The video of Morris’ ankle turning is pretty gross, especially if you’re a basketball player, so just be forewarned.

Via Twitter:

After the game Wizards coach Scott Brooks said he did not have an update on Morris’ status but that they would see how he was feeling on Monday.

Morris, meanwhile, said he initially thought he had broken his ankle.

Speaking to MassLive.com, Morris said as much:

“This was my worst one,” Morris said. “I kind of twist my ankles like this, that’s my injury, an ankle twist. But this was by far the worst one. I honestly thought it was broke. They got the swelling to go down a whole lot, but it almost was like the size of a softball.”

Game 2 of the series is in Boston on Tuesday.