Miami Heat

Miami Heat’s Amar’e Stoudemire earning more minutes with solid play

Amar'e Stoudemire dunks the ball in the second quarter of the Miami Heat’s game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, January 4, 2016 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Amar'e Stoudemire dunks the ball in the second quarter of the Miami Heat’s game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, January 4, 2016 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

He has been bathing in red wine for a couple years now.

So when Amar’e Stoudemire was asked by a rookie NBA reporter about his most recent dip last week after a win in Brooklyn, the 33-year-old reacted the way a 14-year veteran would probably treat a rookie with a dumb question.

“Are you serious?” Stoudemire said with a grin. “That’s been all over the world, man. That’s old news.”

Stoudemire’s relaxing red wine baths might still be news to some, but what really has become newsworthy of late has been his play. After being a healthy scratch in 25 of the Heat’s first 28 games this season, Stoudemire has started the past five at center for Miami with Hassan Whiteside (strained left hip) out.

Miami Heat center Amar'e Stoudemire talks about his recent successful play after the Heat's 105-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks on January 31, 2016.

Stoudemire has not only averaged 9.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in roughly 22 minutes a game, but the Heat’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade weren’t shy Sunday about how much they both enjoy and benefit from Stoudemire’s veteran screen setting, fast-action pick-and-roll game and the fact he doesn’t clog their driving lanes.

Although he’s listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game in Houston, Whiteside could end up returning at some point during the Heat’s three-game trip, which ends Friday in Charlotte. The question now is if Whiteside will still be starting when he comes back. One thing that is certain: Stoudemire will have a bigger role either way.

“We always anticipated he would have a share of something,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday if Stoudemire would have a bigger share of minutes when Whiteside returns. “Everyone is going to have to sacrifice. Different guys on different nights. But big picture, particularly when we play in big games, you want guys who have a résumé like Amar’e.”

For so long, though, it was fair to wonder when or even if that would happen for Stoudemire with the Heat.

Plagued by knee injuries throughout the latter part of his career, all Spoelstra would say earlier in the season when he was asked about Stoudemire and why he wasn’t playing was that it was “all part of the plan.”

Well, that plan is unfolding now in the second half of the season.

Sunday’s season-high 13-point, 12-rebound performance marked Stoudemire’s first double-double since he was with the Knicks on Dec. 7, 2014.

Spoelstra said Sunday he and the Heat knew Stoudemire, signed to the veteran’s minimum of one-year for $1.5 million, was still capable of performing like “he was in his 20s in short bursts.”

The key, Spoelstra said, is controlling Stoudemire’s minutes and making sure he stays “fresh.”

“When you manage it and bottle up those minutes like [Sunday], he’s fresh,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not by accident. [If] Dwyane’s [pre-game preparation] is 3 to 1, Amar’e’s [preparation] is probably 4 to 1 behind the scenes. He spends so much time training, working on his strength, doing corrective exercises, treatment, just to get himself healthy and ready to play. He gives you a highly decorated talent in those minutes that the other veterans have great confidence in.”

And that’s really what the playoffs and the most important moments of this season are going to be about for Miami — having smart, veteran players on the court who know where to be and what to do when it matters. As much as Whiteside’s NBA leading shot-blocking and top-five rebounding statistics help on the defensive end, Stoudemire’s savvy, veteran play on the offensive end also has its benefits for Miami.

“He gives us a different dimension in the offense,” Dragic said. “He knows how to set the screen. If guys are pushing to the right side, he’s not going to set the screen on the right side. He’s going to change the angle and set the screen between the defender and the basket. That’s how D-Wade, me, we can get downhill, inside the paint. It’s much easier like that.”

Said Wade: “He played with one of the best pick-and-roll players in the game, Steve Nash. That doesn’t go away. He knows how to set the screen, knows how to roll, and his hands are amazing.”

Dragic, who spent a season with Stoudemire in Phoenix, said although Stoudemire can’t dunk like he used to he can “still use his body to get his man off him. He can also pick and pop and hit the jumper.”

Stoudemire, sitting in front of his locker with his surgically repaired legs in air compression leg wraps, smiled Sunday night when asked if those red wine baths have been the key to his rejuvenation. All Stoudemire said it really does is help him relax.

“I feel good,” he said. “I felt great last year. I felt great the year before that. The body feels good. It’s been holding up strong. It’s just a matter of going with it.”

A few sips at a time.

Tuesday: Heat at Rockets

When/where: 8 p.m., Toyota Center, Houston.

TV/radio: SUN, NBATV; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)

Series: Heat leads 29-28.

Scouting report: Dwyane Wade, the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week, is averaging 24 points, seven assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals over the Heat’s four-game winning streak. The Rockets, who were beaten in Miami 109-89 on Nov. 1, have lost three games in a row but are 21-18 since J.B. Bickerstaff took over on Nov. 18.

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