Updated: March 24, 2006, 11:07 AM ET

Amare return boosts title shot

This season has been intriguing. And after Thursday night, it just got more interesting.

In his first game back from left knee surgery on Oct. 11, Phoenix Suns big man Amare Stoudemire stepped on the court for 19 minutes, scoring 20 points, pulling down nine rebounds. He dunked, drove down the lane with spring in his step and even dished a Nash-like pass in the paint, exiting to cheering Suns fans before a 125-108 win over Portland.

His team needs him. As good a season as Phoenix has had, without Stoudemire in the Suns' lineup, there will not be a championship banner hung in Phoenix. Period.

I didn't think Stoudemire should come back this year, and that's out of respect to his immense talent. I didn't want to see anything derail what promises to be an outstanding career. I'm a fan.

One argument that I found ridiculous was the idea that his coming back would mess with the Suns' winning chemistry.

Baloney. Would you make that statement about Tim Duncan coming back with the Spurs or Shaq with the Heat? Of course not.

Amare is right in that category with those two as dominant big men in the NBA. Right now. He's got a lot going for him as he tries to make an impact this season. A guy who is 23 is a lot more resilient than a guy at 33. He's a consummate professional, and he's working with two great leaders in point guard Steve Nash and coach Mike D'Antoni. They wouldn't stand by and watch him push himself too fast, too soon.

Phoenix now has a seven-game lead on the Clippers in the Pacific, so there won't be extra pressure on Stoudemire down the stretch. It's going to be important as he goes through the rest of his season to make sure they take as much pressure off him as possible.

He's got 15 more potential warm-ups games before the playoffs. Remember, as great as he was, and as dominant as he was, against San Antonio in last year's Western Finals, his Suns only won one game. In the long run, he has to take that great ability and also make a greater impact the defensive side of the floor.

His team needs him in a possible West final, whether it's against the Spurs or Mavericks, as seems likely. He's battling back from an injury. In Tim Duncan's case, he's got plantar fasciatis, but Duncan is a veteran who has dealt with playing through injuries before. It's new to Amare.

If it were me, I wouldn't have played him this season. Maybe that's why I'm an ESPN analyst and not running the Phoenix Suns. I do appreciate the fact that the Suns believe they can win it all this year.

They just got back the man who can help them get there.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: March 16 | 17 | 18-19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23

Applause For Return Engagement
Tom Hood/AP Photo
Suns center Amare Stoudemire is congratulated by teammates Steve Nash, left, Raja Bell, obscured, and Leandro Barbosa, right.

Mailman's Number Is Up

With his wife and six children, Karl Malone unveiled a statue so tall that even the 6-foot-9 former power forward had to look up to it.

The Utah Jazz honored Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, Thursday with a bronze likeness of the "Mailman" driving to the basket. The Jazz retired Malone's No. 32 later Thursday during halftime of Utah's game against Washington.

Malone, who played 18 of his 19 seasons in Utah, thanked the Jazz for taking him with the 13th pick in the 1985 NBA draft.

"You rolled the dice on me. I hope I didn't let you down," Malone said to cheers of fans who packed the plaza outside the Delta Center on a chilly afternoon.

Malone's statue stands just a few feet from one of point guard John Stockton, just off the corner where John Stockton Drive and Karl Malone Drive intersect southeast of the arena.

Stockton returned to Salt Lake City for Thursday's ceremonies, although he dropped back several feet and let Malone have the spotlight as he was warmly greeted by the fans. Malone paused briefly to kiss the foot of the bronze Stockton before sitting down with his family and hearing several speeches.

Stockton, NBA commissioner David Stern and Jazz owner Larry Miller were among the speakers before Malone and family pulled the giant purple drape covering the statue.

Malone, dressed in black from his boots to cowboy hat, looked up for several moments with a wide grin as he enjoyed the celebration.

Malone also thanked the fans and the state of Utah -- which he mistakenly referred to as a city after he was drafted.

"I realize now, 20 years later that it's a state," Malone said, poking fun at himself.

-- The Associated Press

NBA Intelligence Report

Felton Has Taken The Torch
But from what I saw in Cleveland on Wednesday, the torch has passed. Rookie Raymond Felton is that good and that ready to be this team's starting point guard next season. Keeping Brevin Knight next season would be a nice insurance policy, but isn't he an even better trade commodity? Bickerstaff said at the trade deadline that Knight would retain trade value in the future. Then shouldn't they investigate that value, in pursuit of a late first-round pick? The Bobcats talk constantly about taking the long-range view on everything. Trading Knight this summer -- before his trade value dissipates -- is what long-range planning is about. -- Charlotte Observer

All W's And L's To Skiles
If Scott Skiles had his way, NBA players would be rewarded with bonus clauses in their contracts if their teams made the playoffs, not simply financial incentives for reaching personal milestones. "Every player in the league, when he is listed in the program, should have his career record next to his name. Just like the coaches do," the Bulls coach said. "I have that on my desk right now -- the career records of players since 1991-92. There are some revealing things in there. But you have to get guys to agree to that [contract stipulation], and that's not my job. That's [general manager John Paxson's] job." -- Chicago Tribune

NBA Scout Rips Draft Class
For the straight scoop, consult an NBA scout who has known you long enough and well enough to trust you, and guarantee him anonymity. Henceforth, just such a scout will be known as Arnie Nimoty. "I don't like this draft," Nimoty said. "I don't like any of them. It's a bad draft. I think guys are getting too caught up by what they're seeing now and are putting too much value into how they're playing now." Nimoty likened what was going on now to late night in a bar. -- Lawrence Journal-World

Read the entire NBA Intelligence Report Insider

Motion: Grizz Surge

Memphis won its fifth straight, topping the Clippers 95-85. That puts the Grizz within a half-game of the fifth-place Clippers in the Western Conference. If they keep it up, they'll have a first-round date with the Spurs or Mavs. Ouch.

Battle For Five Seed

He Delivered

Douglas C. Pizac/AP Photo/
Former Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone embraces Jazz center and former teammate Greg Ostertag, foreground, after the retirement of Malone's basketball jersey.

Extreme Behavior

Thursday's Best
Jason Richardson, Warriors guard: Scored 40 points, including a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to send the Warriors past the Mavs 122-121. Richardson had 20 points in the third quarter and went 14-for-23 from the field, 5-for-10 from 3-point range. Dirk's 51 were not enough.


Thursday's Worst
Kirk Snyder, Hornets guard: For hoisting 16 shots and making but three in a one-point loss to Houston, cap'n Kirk gets the award. The Hornets are teetering on the verge of the No. 8 playoff spot, one game behind the Kings.

Quote of the Day
"I realize now, 20 years later, that it's a state."
-- Jazz great Karl Malone, who first referred to Utah as a city when drafted out of Louisiana Tech, poking fun at himself on the night his number was retired.

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 111 who played stacked up
The current NBA Playoff matchups

Most Underrated Wallace (Not Ben Or 'Sheed)

No matter what they do or how well they do it, some players can't seem to get any attention. Take Gerald Wallace, for instance. A high-flying forward with gaudy stats who makes two "SportsCenter"-quality plays a night, you'd think he'd be a household name by now. Instead, the talented wingman toils in anonymity for a Charlotte team that's rarely deemed worthy of a highlight reel.

Ask a fan to name the best forwards in basketball, and he might rattle off 40 names before he gets to Wallace ... if he/she even remembers that Wallace is still in the league. Yet the Bobcats forward has played at an All-Star level this year, shooting 53.7 percent thanks to his explosive finishing skills off the wing. And defensively, he's turning into the second coming of Andrei Kirilenko. Wallace currently leads the league in steals and ranks 10th in blocked shots. If he keeps it up, it would make him one of just a handful of players in league history to finish a season ranked in the top 10 in both categories.

Read the full John Hollinger column Insider

Elias Says

The Timberwolves blew a 50-40 halftime lead in their 86-82 loss to the Nets. It was Minnesota's eighth loss this month in a game in which they led at the half, tying the modern NBA record for such losses in a single month (that is, since the shot clock was instituted in 1954). Two other teams during that time lost eight games in which they led at halftime in one month: the Baltimore Bullets in February 1971 and the San Francisco Warriors in January 1963.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Our MVP Picks

Wiill Perdue writes:
Dwyane Wade is the best player in the league.

Wade's scoring is up four points over last season and his turnovers are down by one per game. Wade is top 10 in steals, assists and scoring, and he's been to the line (549-703, 78 percent) more than all of the other plausible MVP candidates.

Yeah, he plays with Shaq, but the Diesel is no longer a 12-cylinder engine (he's more like an eight-cylinder). Shaq has missed 19 games this season, and the Heat are still 45-22. D-Wade has played 63 of 67 games. He's carrying the Heat.

I played with Michael Jordan, and a lot of players have been compared to MJ over the years, but D-Wade is the closest to having the game and the charisma to carry it off.

Don't be fooled by the fact that he wears Converse. Nike owns Converse.

See all the experts' picks



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