GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Could Thursday night be J.R. Smith's last game as a Knick?
Smith, the sharpshooter who has been in a prolonged slump, said Wednesday after practice that he's not thinking about his future beyond Thursday's Game 5 of the Knicks-Pacers series. That's a good thing, because the game is the first out of a possible three win-or-go-home contests for the Knicks.
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If the Knicks don't find a way to come back from their 3-1 deficit, it is likely almost everyone's future with the team will be up for discussion.
About the same time he won the Sixth Man of the Year award at the end of the season, Smith said he planned to exercise his right to opt out of his contract. Soon afterward, things started to go downhill for him. Over the last six games, dating back to Game 5 of the Knicks' first-round series against Boston, Smith is shooting 26-for-91 (28.5 percent) from the field. After going 7-for-22 in the Game 4 loss at Indiana, Smith blamed himself for the fact the team was on the verge of elimination.
Coach Mike Woodson, however, said Wednesday that it's wrong to point the finger at a single player.
"I'm the head coach. Blame it on me," Woodson said. "I don't look at it in that light. The bottom line is we're all trying to do the right things to win basketball games . . . Our backs are against the wall and my job is to get us out of this hole."
Smith, whose back was literally and figuratively against a wall Wednesday as he talked to reporters, continued to blame himself for the fix the Knicks are in.
"I haven't played the basketball that I'm accustomed to," he said. "I haven't been playing, get to the basket, get to the free-throw line, making shots, making a conscious effort to rebound and do all the things I'm supposed to do as the quote-unquote sixth man and the player that my teammates need me to be."
Former Knick John Starks, who works as an advisor for the Knicks, was watching the team's practice Wednesday, though a team spokesperson said he wasn't available to talk to the media. Starks had plenty of painful shooting slumps when he played with the Patrick Ewing, and Woodson was asked whether Starks had talked to Smith.
"I'm sure he's had conversations with him," Woodson said. "He's been through the battles. But we all talk to J.R . . . Hopefully, J.R. comes out after putting his shots in in practice and is ready to go."
Smith, for his part, says he is.
Said Smith: "I'm very disappointed to be in the position that we're in. We're still not out of it. We're still in a good position to where we can still make some noise. We just got to take it game by game. You can't look no further ahead than one game . . . It's a unique position to be in, but we're still in a position."