Updated: May 11, 2013, 8:21 PM ET

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With Amar'e Returning, Pressure On Woodson

By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- It goes without saying that Game 3 in a 1-1 series is a pivot point, history telling us that the winner ends up taking the series about 77 percent of the time.

But New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson is facing an extra layer when his team's series with the Indiana Pacers finally resumes tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (ABC, ESPN Radio, 8 ET). The Knicks are at a delicate crossroads in the series and, with their style of play, it's squarely on Woodson to negotiate midseries changes to his roster.

Amar'e Stoudemire is back after missing more than two months recovering from a second knee surgery this season. Woodson has promised to play him 10-14 minutes in Game 3.

Stoudemire/Woodson
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesWill playing Amar'e help or hurt the Knicks?

"It's going to be my job to weigh things out in terms of what he's looking like when he's on the floor," Woodson said. "I'm not going to risk what we've been doing, but I am going to play him just to see where he is."

Meanwhile, Woodson has also openly questioned whether he can stick with giving J.R. Smith, who is both sick and in an extended shooting slump, his regular minutes with so much on the line. Needless to say, the middle of a tight series is not the time to be workshopping significant changes.

Woodson might not say it's a risk, but it undeniably is.

In the Knicks' strong Game 2 victory, it was the inclusion of Pablo Prigioni in some key second-half minutes that triggered a 30-2 run that led to a blowout victory. When Prigioni plays, the Knicks seem to move the ball better and operate better on offense. And when Smith can't make a shot -- and he's at 26 percent over his past four games -- Prigioni can seem like a better option at times.

Additionally, it would seem as if Stoudemire's minutes would come at the expense of Kenyon Martin, who has been a key part of the Knicks' success in the playoffs. Martin has become a primary defender on the Pacers' active big man, David West, as well as on the backup center Ian Mahinmi. Earlier this week, Woodson said the Knicks would be "totally lost" without Martin, yet he's now apparently planning to use him less.

Woodson has experimented with playing a bigger lineup than usual with both Martin and Tyson Chandler in at the same time to deal with the Pacers' strong front line. How Stoudemire fits into that is uncertain.

The Knicks are generally very reliant on Carmelo Anthony for so much of their offense, and how Anthony plays probably is the biggest X factor in any Knicks playoff team. But there's a good chance this series will come down to who is able to win the battles around the basket, and messing with the rotation to test out a player who hasn't even dipped his toe in any game, much less a playoff game, since March 7 is not appealing.

It's possible the Stoudemire experiment will end up being short lived, with Woodson feeling as if he owes his $100 million man who has rehabbed from two surgeries this season an opportunity to help the team. But there's so little wiggle room at this point that it's a difficult strategy decision. It's well known the Knicks performed better without Stoudemire this season than with him -- they were 16-13 with and 38-15 without.

No doubt Woodson and the rest of the team's coaching staff and front office weighed it before publicly promising Stoudemire a chance.

The Smith issue is another matter. The Knicks wouldn't be here without Smith's contributions, and they badly need him to break out of his slump. Smith admitted after another bad shooting night in Game 2 that he was pressing a little and said that he was trying to remain patient. Now, he might be asking his coach to do the same thing.

In general, Woodson has made the right moves when it comes to his lineups this season that have regularly been affected by injury. But he has not had a more vital time when he has to get it right.

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