Slumping J.R. Smith in danger of losing starting spot

J.R. Smith looks on during a game against J.R. Smith looks on during a game against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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Since coming back from a five-game suspension for violating the NBA's substance-abuse policy, J.R. Smith has been as out of control on the court as he has been in cyberspace.

The league has taken steps to rein in Smith on Twitter by fining him $25,000, and it is up to Knicks coach Mike Woodson to make him a productive citizen on the basketball court.

Smith had yet another awful night in the Knicks' 20-point loss to Atlanta on Saturday, so horrible that Woodson is considering taking him out of the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game at Detroit. And maybe beyond.

Smith, last year's Sixth Man of the Year, has shot 22.6 percent (12-for-53) in his four games back. His struggles are beginning to impact a team that without Tyson Chandler has very little margin for inaccuracy.

Smith was 3-for-18 in 36 minutes against Atlanta and the Hawks outscored the Knicks by 13 while he was on the court. In his three home games, Smith is shooting 18.6 percent (8-for-43), a major reason the Knicks have lost five straight at home.

Despite the roller-coaster ride that coaching a player of Smith's mercurial talent entails, Woodson has a great deal of affection for him. Yet after the loss to the Hawks, Woodson practically promised to remove Smith from the starting lineup for the game against the Pistons. Coincidentally, Pistons guard Brandon Jennings is the player whom Smith was tweeting about when he drew the fine last week.

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"I'm going to continue to shuffle and do things that I think is right by our team to try to find the right combinations to win," Woodson said Saturday night.

Smith knows he is playing poorly. "I've been playing terrible since I got back and I wasn't happy about it," he said. "Honestly, I don't even know [what's wrong]. I've been getting my shots up before and after practice, been working out like I'm supposed to, and I can't transition it into a game. It's frustrating."

Smith isn't the only one frustrated. Putting Smith in the starting lineup was supposed to give him a chance to produce more points, to become the No. 2 scorer that Carmelo Anthony so badly needs. Though Anthony was careful to sidestep a question about whether Smith should return to the role of sixth man, it's clear that he's weary of carrying the scoring load for a team that can't seem to win at home.

"Physically, it wears on you. But mentally and emotionally, it can take a toll on you when you are out there just not getting it done on both ends of the court as a team," he said. "You got to go home and look at your family, look at your kids. They don't know what to say to you. They don't know how to talk to you. We've got to figure it out."

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