MILWAUKEE — Dennis Smith Jr. welcomed the opportunity that came Monday night, a chance to start a game and to play all the minutes he could handle.
Smith had been working his way back into playing shape after missing 12 days to be with his family following the sudden passing of his stepmother. But after playing 38 minutes Sunday afternoon when Frank Ntilikina suffered an upper back strain, he was thrown right back into the fire and the starting lineup Monday.
The result was predictable — after posting a season-high 17 points Sunday he was 0-for-6 in the first half Monday as the Knicks fell behind by as many as 32 points.
“You definitely do [feel it],” Smith said before the game. “I’m going to tell you, funny that you all ask me that, because toward the end of the game [Sunday] Kemba [Walker] came up to me, ‘Damn, you’ve been in here the whole game.’ I was looking at him like, I’d play all 48. I’m willing to die out there. I was just playing four minutes, five, 10. So as many as they’re going to give me I’m taking it and trying to make the most out of it. I just want to play.”
While Smith came into the season expecting to be the starter he did nothing to win the job in camp and then after Elfrid Payton went down with a hamstring strain, Ntilikina took advantage of the absence of the two and solidified a hold on the starting job. Smith is hopeful that these minutes will get his condition and rhythm right and that he, like Ntilikina, can contribute.
“It’s important to get minutes because that’s how you boost your confidence, actually going out there playing, having room to make mistakes,” Smith said. “You can’t really fear failure. You go out there and play, make mistakes. Of course, you’re going to do things right, too. Having those minutes is major for confidence.”