Mike Woodson said plenty when he kept J.R. Smith on the bench Thursday night, but he wouldn't say much about it after the Knicks beat the Heat. It was the Knicks' biggest win of the season, and Woodson apparently thought benching Smith sent a loud and clear message.
The Knicks have won a season-high three games in a row and four of five, beating both of last season's NBA Finals participants, the Spurs and Heat. But Smith is getting much of the attention.
"He would drive Dr. Phil nuts," notorious Knicks antagonist Charles Barkley said during TNT's telecast of Knicks-Heat.
Barkley's studio partner, Shaquille O'Neal, was even more direct and cutting: "Right now, J.R. Smith is an unmanageable character who isn't putting in the work."
The NBA fined Smith $50,000 Wednesday for "recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct" after Smith untied or tried to untie an opponent's sneaker during a free-throw attempt in three straight games. (It turns out that even before the incidents with the Mavericks' Shawn Marion on Sunday -- which drew a warning from the NBA -- and the Pistons' Greg Monroe on Tuesday, he had done it to the Rockets' Dwight Howard on Jan. 3.) The Players Association is considering appealing Smith's fine.
Whether Smith's punishment is over will be learned Saturday night when the Knicks play in Philadelphia. Woodson was coy about using the same rotation as against the Heat.
"We are going to see," he said after Thursday's game. "We are going to play it out and see how it goes. I like what I saw."
Smith was an integral part of last season's 54-win team. He averaged a career-high 18.1 points, hit two game-winning shots and was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
But after major knee surgery in July, he has struggled this season, averaging 11.3 points and shooting only 34.8 percent.
Aside from the shoelace incidents, his most recent transgression was not knowing the score late in the Knicks' two-point loss to Houston -- they were tied at the time; he thought they were down by two -- and attempting a three-pointer with 19.9 seconds left instead of holding for the last shot.
Smith was suspended the first five games of the season for violating the league's anti-drug policy, was fined $25,000 for a threatening tweet directed at Pistons guard Brandon Jennings and posted an Instagram after the Knicks waived his brother Chris that said, "You know the sad thing about betrayal? It never comes from an enemy."
Smith, who signed a three-year, $17.9-million deal in the summer, said he isn't sure if his future is in New York, although he has no trade value at this point. But his teammates are publicly supporting him.
"You hate to see somebody lose his hard-earned money and be put in a situation where he can't help his team go out and win," Kenyon Martin said. "It's very unfortunate. We're going to stay with him. J.R. is a part of this team, a big part of this team. He's going to be a big part of this team from here on out."
To the Knicks' credit, Smith hasn't been a distraction. They're playing their best ball of the season and have allowed an average of 85.7 points in their last three games.
"We're making strides," Carmelo Anthony said. "We're learning from our mistakes . . . We're going to build on this and see what happens.''
Notes & quotes: Tyson Chandler (upper respiratory infection) will not play Saturday night.