If Amar'e Stoudemire were as young as he says he feels, he wouldn't be allowed to drink red wine, let alone bathe in it.

Stoudemire said all the injuries he has suffered took away some of his joy in playing. But he feels healthy and happy again.

"My joy is there," Stoudemire said before the Knicks' 120-107 preseason loss to the Bucks at Madison Square Garden Monday night. "My love of the game is there. I feel like I'm 19 again as far as how much I love to play the game of basketball. I feel youthful.

"To have that type of feeling again as I had my rookie year, to want to play and just want to be out there and get better as a player, is pretty encouraging."

Stoudemire, 31, hopes to turn back the clock this season. He started at center last night and had 14 points and six rebounds.

Samuel Dalembert started the previous four games and is a far better defender than Stoudemire. Defense was a team-wide issue last night. But Derek Fisher said he still wants to look at lineups before making a firm decision on who will start the season opener in eight days.

There was some concern about Jose Calderon. The starting point guard strained his right calf in the first quarter and didn't return, but Fisher said he doesn't think the injury is "extremely serious."

Stoudemire, who missed 89 games during the previous three seasons, had started in the second half twice this preseason. He's not concerned about whether he starts or comes off the bench, though. He just wants to stay healthy and show Fisher he can count on him.

"Over the past summer and this preseason and training camp, I've been able to work extremely hard and put forth the effort on both ends of the court," Stoudemire said. "I think the confidence is rising within the coaching staff and I hope that continues to grow."

The six-time All-Star revealed last week that he's been taking baths in red wine to help circulation in his red blood cells. He said he feels rejuvenated after doing this treatment, known as vinotherapy. He's also been hearing it from his friends.

"I had a couple calls," he said. "A close friend of mine sending me cases of wine, my teammates are still heckling me about it. So it's been fun."

Fisher said Sunday that as of now, Stoudemire has no minutes restriction and can play in back-to-backs. But Stoudemire said they're going to be smart about it and pointed to veterans such as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who don't always complete back-to-backs.

"It's all predicated upon how I feel," he said. "It's more so just maintenance as opposed to being prevention. So you'd rather be proactive than reactive."

Notes & quotes: Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and nine rebounds and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 20 points . . . Fisher said Andrea Bargnani experienced soreness in his right hamstring during some individual workouts last week. He missed his fourth straight game. Travis Outlaw also sat out the game with Achilles inflammation . . . Fisher said his hope is to have his starting five and rotation set in Friday's preseason finale against Toronto . . . The Knicks will hold an open practice Sunday at the Garden, but tickets are no longer available.