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Amar’e Stoudemire giving Heat a lift when they’ve needed it most

Amar'e Stoudemire

Miami Heat center Amar’e Stoudemire scores against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)


MIAMI (AP) — This is what the Miami Heat envisioned when they got Amare Stoudemire to agree to a free agent deal last summer. In short, they would use him when needed.

And right now, he’s needed.

Miami’s season was teetering on the brink a week ago, with losses and injuries piling up. But the Heat have since won four straight games, Stoudemire starting them all in place of injured center Hassan Whiteside and helping Miami get back on track. Stoudemire posted season-highs of 13 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in Miami’s most recent win, a 105-87 romp over Atlanta on Sunday night.

“He knows how to play,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

Stoudemire has averaged 22 minutes in Miami’s last six games, after averaging about 10 in his first 14 appearances. He’s not the rim protector that Whiteside is, but his pick-and-roll game - he and Dwyane Wade kept effectively running it on Sunday - and ability to finish has given the Heat offense a clear boost.

“Amar’e can be who he was in his 20’s in short bursts if we’re all smart about it and control the minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the hardest thing for me to do. When we manage and bottle them up those minutes, he’s fresh. He spends a great deal of time ... so much time training, working on his strength, doing corrective exercises, treatment, just to get himself ready to play. He just gives you a highly decorated talent.”

He’s also been highly patient.

Stoudemire played in only three of Miami’s first 28 games, logging a total of 27 minutes in that span. The Heat didn’t see a spot for him in the nightly rotation, but Stoudemire never openly complained. He kept up on his long daily routines, taking care of himself on and off the floor and knowing at some point he would play a key role.

That time has arrived.

“I just stayed humble, knowing eventually all the hard work would pay off,” Stoudemire said. “Patience is a virtue. Stay humble. Stay ready.”

He said he found “joy in training” and did so while getting lost in music - Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye mostly - much of the time during workouts to keep his spirits high and mood calm. During games, even when he wasn’t playing, Stoudemire was usually one of the first off the bench to greet teammates or one of the most animated when celebrating someone else’s highlight.

He’s fit into the Heat locker room with ease. And when Whiteside comes back, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stoudemire remained somehow in the rotation.

“I’m here to support Hassan 100 percent,” Stoudemire said. “He’s going through an injury right now. I’m here to support him. There’s no pressure on myself, no pressure on the coaches. My job is to help this team win.”

NOTES: Wade won the Eastern Conference’s player of the week award, averaging 24 points in Miami’s 4-0 week. It’s the 11th different season in which Wade has won the weekly honor. ... The Heat said G Tyler Johnson will have surgery to repair an issue with his left rotator cuff on Wednesday. Johnson has had the problem since his college days, and he and the team were hoping to hold off on the procedure until the offseason. Johnson said he expects to be sidelined around two months. ... Whiteside is listed as questionable for Tuesday in Houston because of his strained left hip.