LeBron James on Amare Stoudemire?

Updated: January 27, 2011, 4:31 PM ET
By Ian Begley | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- There's never a shortage of intrigue when LeBron James pays a visit to Madison Square Garden.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra added a fascinating wrinkle to Thursday night's matchup when he announced that James may spend time guarding Knicks center Amare Stoudemire.

With Chris Bosh sidelined with a high ankle sprain, James will be the Heat's third option to guard Stoudemire, behind centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony.

The 6-foot-8 James has defended players at every position on the floor this season, from Utah point guard Deron Williams to Portland center Marcus Camby. What makes this matchup more intriguing is that the the 6-foot-10 Stoudemire would be the first true offensive center James has guarded this season.

Not to mention it would pit the player who spurned New York (James) against the player who embraced it (Stoudemire).

"It shows you how gifted and skilled he really is," Spoelstra said of James' potential defensive matchup against Stoudemire.

James was not available for comment after the Heat shootaround, when Spoelstra announced the potential defensive pairing.

Just like the last Heat-Knicks matchup on Dec. 28, Ilgauskas is expected to start and guard Stoudemire from the opening tip with Anthony coming off the bench. If either player gets in foul trouble, James will be the third line of defense against Stoudemire, the league's second-leading scorer at 26.1 points per game, two tenths of a point ahead of James.

"If Joel gets in foul trouble and if Z is in foul trouble if it's a tough matchup, [James] is our next-best matchup," said Spoelstra, who added that Juwan Howard may guard Stoudemire. "We'll try to protect all of our guys as much as possible. It's not easy with their spacing and [Stoudemire's] aggressiveness makes it hard too."

Bosh sprained his ankle in Miami's loss to Chicago on Jan. 15 and has been sidelined since. James has also filled in for Bosh at times as the power forward in the Heat offense.

Spoelstra said the Heat have run the same "actions" with James at power forward. He also said they haven't missed much on defense with James in Bosh's spot.

"He gives us a lot of what Chris did in terms of activity at the 4. To cover ground, 3-point shooters, cover the paint," the coach said.

Miami (31-13) beat the Knicks (23-21) 113-91 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17 in James' first trip to New York since he chose to sign with the Heat over the Knicks and a myriad of other suitors last July. James had a triple double (32 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in that game.

The Heat also beat the Knicks, 106-98, in Miami on Dec. 28. James had 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in that game.

Stoudemire has averaged 27 points in two games against Miami, shooting a combined 41 percent from the floor.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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