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Dennis Smith Jr.'s regression makes him third wheel at Knicks' point guard position

The Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr., left, and Kevin

The Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr., left, and Kevin Knox II look on from the bench during the second half against the Suns at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the call for Dennis Smith Jr. finally came against the Lakers on Wednesday night, his first appearance in a game since Dec. 23, he tried to make his presence felt immediately — and with good reason. The brief 3:36 of action was his only playing time on this night.

Smith put up two shots — three if you include the reverse layup that might have dropped in if it hadn’t been touched on the rim by a teammate, leading to an offensive goaltending call. So he had no points and no assists and the Knicks were outscored by nine points in his time on the court, sending him back to the bench.

What’s next remains a mystery. The Knicks have just two weeks until the Feb. 6 trade deadline, and in his troubled season, Smith has fallen to the back of a three-man rotation at point guard. He knows that this could mean another time to pack up and move on in his career after being selected No. 9 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks.

“Everything happens for a reason, you know what I’m saying?” Smith said after practice Thursday. “It was already written, God’s plan. I just gotta execute my part, put my work in and everything will work out.

“It’s a business. I’m here, playing for the New York Knicks, that’s my job right now, so that’s what I’m focused on.”

Smith came to New York with great expectations, the one player who could have been an immediate contributor after being obtained in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas just under a year ago. His time in Dallas came to a quick end with the arrival of Luka Doncic.

“You realized anything can happen,” Smith said. “So you’ve just got to be the best version of yourself.”

He now finds himself behind Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina, neither of whom has exactly flirted with greatness this season. But for a Knicks team desperate for wins, it’s hard to justify trying to get Smith, who has endured a series of injuries as well as a death in the family this season, more minutes.

While he knows he could be dealt, the market isn’t exactly going wild for a point guard with defensive deficiencies who is shooting 32%.

“Dennis has been a professional,” interim coach Mike Miller said. “We’ve maintained communication all the way through. He continues to work on the things that he needs to do. It’s the same thing, can we just keep working to get better every day? Part of it, he goes through an injury where he can’t do a lot because of the nature of the injury [strained oblique]. He had to look at doing some other things.

“Now he just needs some of that game experience to get his legs back underneath him. I should say game minutes instead of game experience, because he has experience. He just needs those minutes to build his stamina back up.”

“I think the answer is we have confidence in all the guys. We see the positives in all the guys. But the minutes in the game dictate what we will do. They all have different talents and play the same position. We try to utilize their talents with what we need at that point in the game.”

Notes & quotes: With RJ Barrett sidelined and still awaiting the evaluation of the right ankle sprain he suffered last Friday, Damyean Dotson got more time and opportunity at shooting guard against the Lakers, contributing 17 points off the bench. “He’s played really well the last couple of games,” Miller said. “He’s had good games as we go through the year. Again, we have different guys that can play that spot. Right now we feel like he has been the best fit for that second group that’s playing together right now and he’s being productive with it.”

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