Knicks' J.R. Smith takes his game to higher level

J.R. Smith of the Knicks celebrates after hitting

J.R. Smith of the Knicks celebrates after hitting a three point shot against the Sacramento Kings. (Feb. 2, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Just because he can doesn't mean he should. Knicks shooter J.R. Smith is just that, a shooter, who can nail jump shots from binocular range.

But what coach Mike Woodson has liked about Smith's contribution to this Knicks season, and particularly to the team's six-game winning streak down the stretch, is that "he's starting to figure out some things. He's not just taking jump shots. He's taking it to the rim, getting to the free-throw line. He's rebounding, he's playing defense."

In Wednesday night's uneven 108-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies -- the Knicks were like an orchestra on offense in the first half, harmonizing movement, passing and spot-on shooting, and mostly off-key in the second half -- Smith again was the leading scorer.

He had 35 points, the night after scoring 32 against Boston. In a reserve role, as usual, he made 10 of 18 field goals -- 3 of 7 three-pointers -- and, as Woodson said, earning free throws. He made 12 of 13 and shared team-high rebounding honors with Carmelo Anthony (7 apiece).

All those numbers matter as the Knicks watched a 30-point lead in the last minute of the first half melt down to four in the final minute of the game.

After Iman Shumpert set the early tone, scoring 13 of the Knicks' first 17 points, the Knicks proceeded to hit several crowd-pleasing crescendos with their ball-sharing and outside shooting. Smith, meanwhile, was opening up all sorts of opportunities -- for him and his mates -- by crashing to the basket early.

"I wanted to establish my game on the inside and move on from there," Smith said. "I got a lot of calls, I made my free throws. My body is killing me but I'll take it."

So will Woodson, who acknowledged that Smith came to the Knicks last year with a reputation for relying too much on his outside shooting skill. Smith -- his given name is Earl Joseph Smith III, though he goes by "J.R.," which these days could stand for "Judgement Revised" -- has appeared to learn a lot of new tricks in his old age, 27, and eighth NBA season.

"I can't speak for other coaches [who had Smith]," Woodson said. "When I saw him last year, I liked what he brought to the table. It's my job as his coach to show him some love, put him in positions to be successful. But still coach him.

"Younger players are different from older players. I probably would've been a little tougher on him when he was younger, and pat him, too. I still try to coach him, but be demanding of him. Sometimes he fights me. That's part of coaching, give and take. He's still got a ways to go but he's getting there."

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