HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Get ready New York, here comes J.R.
And just in the nick of time.
J.R. Smith, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, who has had little else go well since picking up that bit of hardware, will make his season debut today in a matinee tip at Madison Square Garden against the reigning Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs (12 ET, League Pass), who, by the way, are off to a 5-1 start.
Smith was suspended for the first five games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy, but before that came his second-round disappearing act in the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers that made his Sixth Man trophy feel more like an old tin can. Still, it didn’t stop New York from re-signing the enigmatic shooting guard to a three-year, $18.5 million contract. Shortly after he underwent surgery on his left knee.
Like Smith, the Knicks, could use a little boost.
It’s a team that is, at least, in partial disarray with a 2-3 record out of the chute and plugging leaks. Superstar Carmelo Anthony started the season not by boldly stating how he’ll guide his team to the championship, but rather by explaining how he’ll happily go through free agency next summer. He’s leading the team in scoring at 24.6 ppg but while clanging far more shots than he’s making (40.5 percent overall and 31.8 percent from downtown). Heart-and-soul center Tyson Chandler is out four to six weeks with a small fracture in his fibula. And the guy credited with much of last-season’s level-headed approach, Jason Kidd, is coaching the Brooklyn Nets.
So here comes J.R. just as the Knicks need an infusion of anything positive. Atlanta, Houston, Detroit and Indiana follow the Spurs.
“I just want to do so well for my teammates,” Smith told reporters. “I feel like I’ve not really been a part of the team, but still being a part of the team is tough. You can’t get out there physically and help these guys. You can only do so much from a communications standpoint. …. There’s only so much you can do from the sideline. [I’m] just happy to get it over with.”
Smith, who averaged a career-high 18.1 ppg last season, will pop off the bench in his familiar sixth-man role, Knicks coach Mike Woodson told reporters. Woodson had publicly flirted with making Smith a starter in front of the 6-foot-5 Iman Shumpert, who’s averaging 10.8 ppg and is the team’s top perimeter defender. He’ll be needed against a Spurs squad loaded with sharpshooters.
Woodson said he expects to play Smith about 30 minutes in his debut. The Knicks will need a solid showing from him to dump Spurs, and to prevent an unsightly 1-3 start at the Garden.