Knicks Insider: J.R. Smith in a comfort zone

J.R. Smith of the Knicks goes to the

J.R. Smith of the Knicks goes to the hoop for a first half basket against the Charlotte Bobcats. (March 29, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Al Iannazzone

Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone. Al Iannazzone

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’

bio | email

J.R. Smith is having the time of his life this season and providing fun, excitement and laughs for others.

Last week, Smith tweeted a photo of Mike Woodson boarding the team plane in a black shirt with white polka dots and the caption "#Top5WorstShirtsIveSeenInMyLife!"

Smith also is a regular participant in the halftime games at the Garden when little kids play while coaches and players prepare for the second half. Smith runs up and down the court with the kids, throws them passes and has a big smile all the while.

You always have more fun when you're winning, and Smith not only has sparked the Knicks' seven-game winning streak but is a major reason they're close to capturing their first Atlantic Division title since 1994.

Smith is as comfortable as he's ever been in the NBA, in large part because of his relationship with Woodson.

There certainly are times when it appears that Woodson should rein in Smith a little more. But there is no question that more than ever in Smith's nine-year career, he's trying to do the right things on both ends of the floor because he doesn't want to let down his coaches and teammates.

He is averaging 17.7 points, which leads all sixth men in the NBA. In the winning streak, Smith is averaging 26.4 points and shooting 62-for-115 from the field (53.9 percent). He's had three straight games of at least 30 points, becoming the first reserve since Ricky Pierce in 1990 to do that.

"I'm starting to come into my own a little bit," Smith said. "Instead of settling and shooting jumpers, jumpers, jumpers, I'm doing what [Woodson] wants me to do and what my teammates like to see me do, get to the paint."

During the streak, Smith has shot four three-pointers a game, compared with 5.7 before March 18. Earlier in the month, Smith took a whopping 45 threes in a four-game span, including a 3-for-14 performance against the Heat.

Those are the times when Woodson should pull out Smith and tell him to stop shooting. After the Miami loss, Woodson talked to Smith about going to the basket more. He finally seems to have gotten the message.

His overall field-goal percentage has gone up from 40.0 to 41.5, and he has averaged 8.6 free-throw attempts in the last seven games. He took 3.2 per game before then.

"I'm sure he's heard me scream enough about mixing it up a little bit," Woodson said. "You can't just sit out there, miss six, seven, eight jump shots and think that's OK. I think he's starting to figure that part of it out, which is good for us.''

As maddening as Smith can be with his shot selection, you have to recognize his value and importance to the Knicks, who have been without Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire during this seven-game winning streak.

Smith has played every game this season. He gives the same effort every night, and he's been arguably the most consistent Knick this season, which is saying something considering his enigmatic past.

"He's extremely focused on helping this team win basketball games and the big picture," Carmelo Anthony said. "We need that from him."

That championship season

Phil Jackson, and all living members of the 40th anniversary 1972-73 champion Knicks, are expected to be at the Garden on Friday when the franchise honors them on Legends Night at halftime of the game against the Bucks.

Jackson didn't make it when the 1969-70 team was recognized because he was coaching the Lakers.

Dick Barnett, Henry Bibby, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Dean Meminger, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, John Gianelli and Harthorne Wingo have committed to attend. Family members will represent the late Dave DeBusschere, Red Holzman, Dick McGuire and trainer Danny Whelan.

Assistant general manager Allan Houston will present each person a customized Tissot watch. A video will commemorate the Knicks' last championship team.

VP Kiki

One-time Knick Kiki VanDeWeghe will become the NBA's vice president, basketball operations effective tomorrow. He'll report to his old Knicks coach, Stu Jackson, the league's executive VP, basketball operations.

VanDeWeghe, the former Nets and Nuggets GM, has altered the spelling of his last name. The D and W are capitalized now as a tribute to his late grandfather, who spelled it that way when he came to the United States from Belgium.

Clapping Kenyon

Kenyon Martin had a great reaction when he was asked about Miami having its 27-game winning streak snapped by Chicago on Wednesday. Martin clapped.

Then he was told the Knicks have the longest current winning streak. Martin clapped again.

Bullish on Chicago

The Heat's historic streak captivated the league and basketball fans. They came up six games short of tying the 1971-72 Lakers' record of 33 in a row.

Impressively, the Bulls stopped Miami's streak without four of their top seven guys -- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and Marco Bellinelli.

When Rose will return is unknown, but the Bulls will be a tough out in the playoffs for any team regardless. They're physical and they defend and play hard all the time. Former Knicks assistant Tom Thibodeau continues to prove he's one of the NBA's top coaches.

 

Heartwarming Story

There was a special scene Wednesday in Cleveland, where Celtics forward Jeff Green hit the game-winning layup at the buzzer.

Dr. Lars Svensson, who performed heart surgery on Green 14 months ago at Cleveland Clinic, was at the game. Green hugged the surgeon before leaving the court.

"Just a year ago and a couple of months, I was under that bright light with him working on me," Green told reporters after the game. "It's a blessing to be here. He's paying attention to what I'm doing. That was for him. That was for Dr. Svensson.

"I'm lucky to be back on the court, and I owe it all to him. I'm just blessed and thankful."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

@Al_Iannazzone

Vote

How many games will Amar'e Stoudemire play this season?

30 or fewer 31-45 46-60 61-82

advertisement | advertise on newsday