J.R. Smith sparks Knicks after accepting sixth-man role

J.R. Smith dunks the ball in the first

J.R. Smith dunks the ball in the first half of a game against the Dallas Mavericks. (Nov. 9, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

J.R. Smith was disappointed about not being a starter this year. But Smith, and the rest of the Knicks, couldn't be happier with the way he's played.

Smith has been a spark in the Knicks' 4-0 start. He's not only filling the role of the consummate sixth man but has been the second scorer the Knicks need behind Carmelo Anthony with Amar'e Stoudemire out.

"I'm loving it right now," Smith said. "I'm playing my game, playing with confidence. I have a chance to go out there and make plays for my teammates. Coach has given me a lot of opportunities, so I love it."

Smith is doing it all -- in starters' minutes. He's shooting 11-for-16 from three-point range and averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals in 34.0 minutes. Only Anthony has scored more points and played more minutes than Smith on the Knicks, who will try for a 5-0 start tomorrow night in Orlando.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith's performance is that he's been in control. His shots have come within the flow of the offense and he's been moving the ball to get better looks.

He also has seized the moment.

In Friday's win over Dallas, Anthony went to the bench with four fouls with 7:30 left in the third quarter and the Knicks up one. Smith picked up the offensive load, scoring nine of the Knicks' next 11 points to extend their lead.

"What I feel more than anything is I've got to make plays, not so much just score," Smith said. "I've got to make the little plays."

That's what Mike Woodson has stressed to Smith -- to rebound, defend and distribute -- and he's responded. But it hasn't been without some hard feelings.

Smith increased his workouts in the offseason. He pulled two-a-days to return in the best possible shape for what he hoped would be a new role. Then Woodson declared that Smith would remain a sixth man.

At the time, Smith said that to describe how he felt, "disappointed would be an understatement." Then an Achilles injury cropped up that Smith said was the result of all the extra work he put in. The injury kept him out the last five preseason games, and Smith had time to reflect, speak to his teammates and ultimately accept his sixth-man role.

"It was over within a matter of days," Smith said. "It was just a matter of talking to my teammates, what they really need from me. What they really needed from me is coming off the bench. It wasn't really a disappointment for the fact that I can still help my team."

Notes & quotes: Woodson said Stoudemire hasn't been on the Knicks' bench during games because he's in the trainers' room getting treatment on his surgically repaired left knee . . . Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Ronnie Brewer were in Far Rockaway on Saturday, distributing supplies to first responders and families affected by Sandy . . . Woodson gave the Knicks, who have played only once in seven days, the day off Sunday. The Orlando game starts a stretch of three games in four nights and six in nine for the Knicks.

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