J.R. Smith goes to the hoop against Marcin Gortat of...

J.R. Smith goes to the hoop against Marcin Gortat of the Washington Wizards during a game at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 16, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sure, J.R. Smith's shot selection is questionable at times. His knee is still a little balky. And he may (or may not) have attempted only one shot Friday to spite Mike Woodson.

But when Smith plays well, the Knicks are a different team.

Smith was a difference-maker in spurts Monday night in the Knicks' 102-101 loss to the Wizards at the Garden. He had 18 points and six assists and knocked down two huge three-pointers in the fourth quarter that nearly led to victory. Smith even played a little defense, picking up three steals.

"He looked like the J.R. of old," Woodson said. "He had a little bounce to himself. He made some shots."

Before Monday night, Smith hadn't cracked double figures in scoring in five of the previous seven games. Those woes continued when Smith scored four points and shot 1-for-8 in the first half against Washington.

Maybe he had to remember how to hoist up shots after he took only one against the Celtics on Friday. A report Sunday said that Smith's lack of aggressiveness was in response to Woodson's criticism of his poor shot selection. Woodson didn't want to address that before the game Monday night, saying Smith and he are "fine."

"I'm not airing that out, because that wasn't even the issue," Woodson said.

Smith was much more effective against the Wizards, shooting 6-for-16 overall and 5-for-11 on three-pointers. He was a spark for the Knicks during a third quarter in which they outscored Washington 35-22. Smith accounted for eight of those points, including consecutive threes that got the team within 59-54 with 7:01 left in the period.

He saved his best for the fourth quarter. Smith got the Knicks within 94-93 on a three-pointer with 3:14 left and hit another one a minute later to give the Knicks a 98-94 lead.

Woodson said before the game that Smith still is having issues with the knee he had surgically repaired in July. Smith, the coach said, has complained about soreness.

"I know he's laboring a little bit. We need guys playing at a high level to get out of this hole," Woodson said, pointing a finger somewhat at Smith and Iman Shumpert.

Actually, it was Tim Hardaway Jr. and Beno Udrih who answered the bell. Hardaway had 14 points in 22 minutes and Udrih added 12 points and five assists. He missed a free throw and made a poor defensive play in the final minute, but before that, Udrih came up huge in the absence of Pablo Prigioni, who fractured his right big toe and will be out at least two weeks.

Shumpert had eight points and 2-for-8 shooting. "J.R. needs to pick it up and start playing better," Woodson said. "I could say the same for Iman."

One out of two ain't bad.