(AP) — Amare Stoudemire is eager to try to return for the New York Knicks’ final game before the All-Star break. It could be a physical affair.

The Knicks have suffered two nine-point losses to the Atlanta Hawks and the last meeting featured a fight heading into Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden.

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Stoudemire missed his first game of the season Saturday in New York’s 105-95 win at New Jersey due to a sprained right big toe. The Knicks (27-26) have been off since that game, and the All-Star forward believes he’ll be back against the Hawks (34-20).

“I should be ready to go by Wednesday,” Stoudemire said.

He will probably need to be at his best since Atlanta won 99-90 at New York on Nov. 27 and 111-102 at home Jan. 28.

“We got a game Wednesday against Atlanta, it’s going to be a tough game,” Stoudemire said. “That’s the last game before the break so we can go into the break on a good note if we get that win and get great rest for the second half of the year.”

Last month’s meeting took place in what forward Josh Smith called a “playoff atmosphere.” The intensity was evident due to an incident involving Atlanta’s Marvin Williams and New York’s Shawne Williams.

With 43.7 seconds remaining, Marvin Williams pushed Shawne Williams in the back, starting a brief altercation that led to each player being ejected and charged with fighting fouls. Marvin Williams was suspended for two games and Shawne Williams one game for throwing punches.

Smith was also fined $25,000 for making an obscene gesture during the game.

Stoudemire has averaged 25.5 points in the losses to Atlanta, but shot 44.4 percent. The Hawks placed five players in double figures both times, with Al Horford averaging 18.0 points and 11.5 rebounds while helping slow down Stoudemire.

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New York shot 27.0 percent on 3-pointers in those games. Atlanta is one of the league’s best in defending the 3 at 32.9 percent.

The Knicks were much better from long range Saturday, making 16 of 34.

“I thought the ball movement was a little bit better,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We could penetrate and got into the lane a little bit and kicked it out. When we do that, we usually find good shots.”

The Hawks opened a stretch of seven straight road games with Monday’s 94-79 victory at Detroit. They improved to 17-11 on the road for the second-best mark in the East after losing two straight at home.

“We haven’t handled our business at home,” coach Larry Drew said. “It may be a good time to go out on the road.”

Smith had 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Hawks, winners of eight of 10 on the road.

“Teams are going to have tough times,” Smith said. “It’s how you work yourself out of it. We didn’t stop believing and we just played that much harder tonight.”

Smith is averaging 25.0 points on 58.2 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds in his last four games. Leading scorer Joe Johnson, meanwhile, is averaging 10.3 points on 37.1 percent shooting in his last three.

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Updated February 15, 2011
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