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Knicks take cautious approach with injured Dennis Smith Jr.

Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. against the Atlanta

Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half oat Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

As the rest of his Knicks teammates readied for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Heat, Dennis Smith Jr. sat at his locker with sunglasses on, looking as if he were more prepared for a walk around Central Park.

That’s the way it has been for three weeks for Smith, who has been sidelined by an oblique strain, the latest in a series of setbacks that have ruined his season. As he talked about his injury and his rehab, he got excited only when he spoke of his old AAU teammate, Bam Adebayo, and the opportunity that has turned the Miami Heat center into a potential All-Star.

“He should be,” Smith said. “He’s got my vote.”

Left unsaid is the opportunity that has not come for Smith, or that he has squandered the chance when it has surfaced.

After he arrived in Dallas as a lottery pick, his role was usurped by the ascension of Luka Doncic. In New York, the competition is at a much lower level, but he has started a game only once all season.

Earlier this season, when he was asked if he was confident that his chance would come with the Knicks, he said cryptically, “I”m not really a wait-around type of guy.” His name has surfaced around the league as one of the players available in a trade.

After a back injury slowed him in the preseason, he had to leave the team after the sudden passing of his stepmother. Now he has been sidelined since Dec. 23 with the oblique injury.

“I’m feeling better,” Smith said. “The good thing about it is I’m making progress. That’s what’s important, making progress, getting better and coming back at 100 percent.”

Smith has begun working with the team in contact drills in practice, but interim coach Mike Miller has been pulling him quickly as the Knicks try to keep him from taking a step backward in his recovery.

“It can be aggravated again very easily,” said Smith, who had an MRI after originally injuring himself in a late-night practice session. “That’s how it happened, just playing through it and it got aggravated again. We just don’t want to repeat that. We want to get back, hit the ground running. Obviously get back as fast as possible. We want to be cautious with it.”

Spoelstra again backs Fizdale

Erik Spoelstra and David Fizdale worked together for years in Miami, and when the Knicks visited last month, the Heat coach criticized them for their quick dismissal of Fizdale. He took up the cause again at the Garden on Sunday.

“I think it takes a long time to build culture, and they hired him for a reason,” Spoelstra said. “And it’s not going to happen overnight. I think he’s just a brilliant basketball mind and teacher of the game. It’s just unfortunate. I look at it all the time and compare it to our situation where we have incredible stability. I get these statistics all the time, and people ask me how do you feel? You’re in your 12th year, and so-and-so or this organization has gone through 10-plus coaches in that period of time. It’s a tough indictment on our profession.”

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