The Knicks went through a light walkthrough session on Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s Game 3 in Indiana. It could be the key off-day of this mini break as it allowed struggling shooting guard J.R. Smith to work on his shot in the comfortable confines of the Knicks’ facilities — far away from the white-hot lights of a raucous NBA arena.
Smith, the mercurial Sixth Man of the Year, hasn’t been the same dynamic player since he elbowed Celtics guard Jason Terry toward the end of Game 3.
But since the Knicks were able to close out the Celtics in six games in the last round and they demolished the Pacers in Game 2 this round — sans an effective Smith — the public outcry against the reserve guard has been negligible.
Smith, who has made it a habit of not making himself available to the media after practice since the elbowing incident, declined to talk again on Thursday, so there’s no telling if his slump is truly getting to him. But according to his teammates and head coach Mike Woodson, all is well in the mindset of the team’s second-leading scorer.
“Shooters go through it so he’s just got to think every time he pulls up to shoot or goes to the rim that it’s going to go in. You can’t back away from it,” Woodson said. “We’ve all gone through it as players. I’ve got faith and believe in J.R., and when he does break through it he’ll be back to J.R. again and that’ll help us even more.”
Woodson added, however, that even if Smith endures yet another horrific shooting night the Knicks have enough depth to weather the rocky times.
“Being a team, everybody is not going to have it every night, and I’ve been saying that since we started this playoff run. But we have other guys who can score,” Woodson said, adding that even if Smith’s shot is temporarily missing he still needs to find a way to contribute. “Some nights it might not be your night, but you’ve still got to do something to help us, or you won’t be playing. Maybe it’s on defense, or coming up with loose balls, taking charges or rebounding the basketball. ... That’s how we’ve been all season.”
Carmelo Anthony, who has the perfect mental makeup to play in New York since he’s never too high and never too low, said he, too, has faith in Smith breaking his slump because he believes it’s all in a guy’s head.
“I don’t think he’ll be in a so-called slump for much longer. The only way you get out of a slump is if you put in work in the gym, and he’s been doing that,” Anthony said. “We just need him to be J.R. again [by] having fun and being positive on the court. I tell him to just play ball — relax and play ball. There’s no pressure to try and go out there and make something happen. Just let the game come to you. ... I told him to just stay mentally strong. He says he’s in a slump, but I don’t believe that because I’m always trying to stay positive with him. We need J.R. to be aggressive and play his game the same way he’s been doing all season long.”
Smith’s life away from the floor has been scrutinized all season, but since his play never suffered his off-court antics were never seen as a detriment. But now that he’s in a slump, critics are saying those same postgame outings and his fascination with social media are what’s keeping him from turning around his fortunes.
Anthony wanted no part in that topic, but disputed that Smith’s persona off the floor is what’s affecting his shooting percentage.
“I don’t want to speak on that [off-court life], but to me he’s focused. When he’s here, he’s here, and whatever he does in his spare time, he does in his spare time,” Anthony said. “My thing for J.R. is to remain positive, regardless of what’s being said about him. I tell him if you don’t have a positive attitude throughout these situations it makes everything tougher.”
Knicks notes ...
» Amar’e Stoudemire worked out again on Thursday and said he’s looking forward to making his postseason debut in Game 3. Stoudemire, who participated in the team’s walkthrough session by running with the second unit, noted he’s brimming with anticipation and thinks he can make an impact and carry out whatever role Woodson wants from him.
“I expect to just contribute the best way I can. I don’t have time to get in rhythm, so I just have to be ready from the start and that’s the way it has to be,” Stoudemire said. “I’ve been in the playoffs my entire career, so I know what it takes to be ready for the postseason and hopefully I’ll be ready for Game 3. ... Any time you’re on the floor you have a chance to make an impact on the game. However much time coach puts me on the floor, I’ll be ready to contribute.”
» Stoudemire, who will have a recovery day on Friday, also said he doesn’t think conditioning — or lack thereof — will adversely affect him because his minutes will be monitored.
“I’m not playing 40 minutes a night, so as far as my conditioning is now it’s in great shape in regards to the amount I’m going to play. Now, if I was playing 40 minutes a night, then I’d need more time to get in shape, but as of right now I feel great. ... It’s a matter of will. I can play whatever minutes the coaching staff wants me to play. Every day I’ll continue to get in better shape and play however long coach wants me to.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.