J.R. Smith is due for a big game.
That seems to be coach Mike Woodson's thinking as the Knicks play a win-or-go-home playoff game in Indianapolis Saturday night. Even though Smith's performance in the Game 5 win over the Pacers on Thursday night was not spectacular, it was enough to convince Woodson that the mercurial shooter, whom he has stood behind all season, is about to get hot again.
"The bottom line is he was ready to play," Woodson said Friday of Smith's 13-point, six-rebound performance. "I thought he made a major step forward and we got to keep him pushing forward even more when we step on the floor in Indianapolis."
In a telephone conference call with reporters and later on his ESPN 98.7 radio segment, Woodson repeatedly reasserted the faith he has in the team's No. 2 scorer. He said that despite Smith's troubles in the playoffs -- entering Game 5, he was shooting 28.5 percent in his last six games -- he never considered giving up on Smith.
"He's a big part of the puzzle in terms of where we've gone. I'm not going to kick him to the curb," Woodson said. "If I see fit to scale back and try something else offensively, I will do that. Thursday night, he came in and was ready to play. I thought he played extremely well early and throughout the game he seemed to maintain. We have to expect more from him in Indianapolis because he's a big part of what we do."
In the six playoff games in which Smith struggled, the Knicks went 2-4. They also lost Game 4 against Boston, when Smith was suspended for throwing an elbow at Jason Terry in Game 3.
Woodson said the whole el- bow-throwing incident threw Smith off his game. He said he never considered fining or suspending Smith because after watching tape of the incident, he realized that Smith was reacting to an earlier foul.
"When I got back and looked at that play, there was a foul that should have been called and he retaliated off the foul," Woodson said. "I'm not going to sit there and browbeat the guy because I might have reacted the same way. I thought it was a hard foul. J.R. retaliated, which was the wrong thing to do. But I'm not going to compound it and browbeat J.R.
"I think the incident in Boston took some of the starch out of him. It's my job as a coach, his teammates and my staff to get him back to playing at that level. It would be a great opportunity for him to step up [Saturday night] and get that done and help us win a game."