J.R. Smith hasn't been untying sneakers or upsetting Mike Woodson lately. He's been playing basketball and showing his athleticism again. He's attacking the defense and is close to becoming the second scoring option to Carmelo Anthony that he was last season. The Knicks only hope Smith continues on this path.
Anthony has sparked the four-game winning streak that the Knicks will take into Saturday night's game against the two-time defending champion Heat at Madison Square Garden. But the changes in Smith's play and overall behavior have been significant factors, too. Being benched twice in January might have inspired these alterations.
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"Just being professional, on and off the court, as much as I can," Smith said. "This is my 10th year. Of course, it sounds like an old broken record, but you can never be too cautious about your job. Anybody's job here is replaceable and I understand that, and just taking it as serious as I can."
From Smith's mouth to Woodson's ears. But the Knicks hope Smith is serious this time. He has teased them before.
Smith averaged 18.1 points last season and was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. The Knicks rewarded him with a three-year, $17.9-million contract.
But major offseason left knee surgery affected Smith's physical performance. Other things, including the Knicks' decision to waive his brother Chris in December, impacted him mentally, hurting his game and the team.
Woodson didn't play Smith the last time the Knicks faced the Heat, on Jan. 9, the day after the league fined him $50,000 for untying opponents' sneakers. Woodson also benched Smith on Jan. 14 in Charlotte. Reportedly, the two exchanged words the night before and Smith was late the morning of the game.
In his eight games since Charlotte, he has averaged 16.4 points, 5.1 more than he scored before that. During the winning streak, he's averaging 16.5 points, shooting 49 percent from the field and 10-for-18 from three-point range. He had been averaging 11.9 points, shooting 36.5 percent overall and 34.8 percent on threes.
"It was just time for him to really have some me time with himself," Anthony said. "Ask himself, do he really want it? He controls his own destiny at this point. He's stepped up to the plate and he's put that behind him and he's playing good basketball."
Part of it is that Smith finally seems healthy. Until recently, he wasn't moving as well or displaying his previous explosiveness. He had a couple of impressive dunks in Thursday's win over Cleveland and finished with 19 points.
Because Iman Shumpert was out with a sprained right shoulder, Smith started that game. If Shumpert sits again Saturday night, Woodson probably will keep Smith in the starting lineup.
"I think he's playing more relaxed, engaged, in tune to what we want done from a basketball standpoint, and it's working for him," Woodson said. "He's putting in the time and it's nice to see."
Toure' Murry was assigned to the Erie BayHawks and played in their game against the Springfield Armor Friday night. The Knicks are expected to recall Murry from the D-League before Saturday night's game.