While Carmelo Anthony has recovered well from his right hamstring injury, proving once again why he's arguably the best midrange jump shooter in the NBA, his longtime teammate, J.R. Smith, has found a new calling on the court.
With the New York Knicks beating the Bucks on Friday, Smith put together another performance of at least 30 points, while shooting higher than 50 percent from the field. It was his fourth 30-point game during the Knicks' 11 game-winning streak -- the longest current streak in the league.
Smith's recent play (23.9 points per game over the Knicks' past 11 games) has made his pairing with Anthony (32.4 points per game) the highest-scoring in the league during that span.
New York Knicks
"When I first got to Denver, we were kind of a high-scoring duo, but this is definitely the best it's felt coming off the bench and us jelling together," Smith said after the game.
Friday, Smith helped Anthony save the Knicks after trailing 45-36 at halftime. In the third quarter, while Melo scored 18 points, Smith hit four 3-pointers in only about a four-minute stretch. On one possession, Smith found his teammate from deep while posting up, and then Melo flicked a showy, under-handed pass to Smith for a 3-pointer. At the end of the period, the Knicks had put up twice as many points as the Bucks, 42 to 21.
"We were just shooting the ball really bad [in the first half]," Iman Shumpert said, "and it's nice to have a guy like Melo and a guy like J.R. They're a nightmare to defend, and when they're on together, it's even worse."
Smith's MO has been to get to the basket of late, especially since the team has had a depleted frontline due to injuries. His aggressiveness has not only shown up in his additional free throw attempts, but also his higher rebounding totals. On Friday night, he had 10 boards.
"J.R. is doing amazing, jumping from the bench, giving us so many solutions on offense and defense, rebounding," Pablo Prigioni said.
Smith also credited other factors for boosting his shot selection, including how teams have been loading up on Anthony. Smith also said the faster pace the Knicks have been playing has been working in their favor. The increased tempo with Anthony at power forward has created more mismatches with opponents.
"When we push the ball, it's hard to defend us," Smith said. "It's kind of like a cross match because he's guarding 4s and 5s, and they've got to switch it up and run down the court like who's going to guard him. So when I'm pushing the ball, a lot of times I've got a smaller guard on me, and fortunately it worked out a few times where I was posting up and I was able to find him for 3s."
Overall, there was much to celebrate Friday night -- the 1972-73 championship team being honored at halftime, then Smith and Anthony tag-teaming the Knicks to victory once again. But Knicks coach Mike Woodson knows he's going to need more than his two scoring studs when it matters most.
"I've always said we've had a team this season that's got five guys that average in double figures," the coach said. "Other people are stepping up and making plays, and that's what we're going to have to have the rest of the way."
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