In many ways the Knicks season comes down to questions about Amar'e Stoudemire. Could he return successfully from left knee surgery, did he really learn a post game this summer, and would he truly accept a reserve role if it meant winning?

Last night showed the answer to all three may be a resounding yes.

Stoudemire may have come off the bench, but he finished with 14 points on perfect 7-of-7 shooting with an array of moves earned from weeks of work with Hakeem Olajuwon. And when it was done, after he walked off to a standing ovation at the Garden, he had helped the Knicks to a 113-97 rout of Orlando.

"I'm just taking what the defense gives me, just taking my time and trying to be as efficient as I can,'' said Stoudemire, 34-of-51 in his last six games as he reaps the benefit of all those summer post-up practices.

"The amount of work I put in this summer is definitely paying off now. I'm slowly getting back into a great rhythm. I feel great offensively. Defensively is my main focus. Offense is going to come over time. With experience, the defense is going to improve even more.''

Stoudemire opened the fourth quarter by finishing off a perfect pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni for a dunk. Then he worked in the paint and hit a tough turnaround right over Nikola Vucevic for an 88-78 lead. Stoudemire was impressive enough that — a game after Carmelo Anthony scored 42 — Orlando started doubling Stoudemire.

"STAT has become a low-post threat,'' said coach Mike Woodson.

"When he catches the ball in there, he's been able to produce. That's going to be huge for our ballclub.''

Though Woodson vowed to use Stoudemire more alongside Anthony and Tyson Chandler — that trio scoring 18 points in the Knicks' 28-22 third quarter — he gave James White the starting nod.