J.R.'s lesson? 'Don't goof around, I guess'

PHILADELPHIA -- So what did J.R. Smith learn from this whole shoelace fiasco?

"Don't goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don’t take this opportunity here you have for granted," he said. "There’s a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast."

Smith returned to the court Saturday for the New York Knicks in Philly after being benched one game (and one quarter) for his shoelace antics.

He made an immediate impact against the 76ers, scoring 11 points, handing out four assists and grabbing two rebounds in the second quarter.

The Knicks outscored Philadelphia by 20 with Smith on the floor, turning an eight-point deficit into a 12-point halftime lead.

"I thought he was a real pro tonight, man, despite everything that's going on," Carmelo Anthony said. "For him to bounce back the way he did today and obviously put that stuff behind him and move forward, that was big-time for him as a person."

Anthony's known Smith for a long time. He played with the shooting guard for years in Denver. So Anthony realizes -- maybe more than anyone -- that it's hard to know if Smith really learned a lesson here or if he's just telling the Knicks what they want to hear.

"This is a situation that really opened his eyes up, he looked himself in the mirror and hopefully he wants to change, he's got to change," Anthony said. "It's up to him now."

The Knicks clearly aren't happy with Smith's behavior on and off the court this season. The shooting guard missed the preseason while rehabbing from knee surgery that he decided to get just days after signing a three-year, $18 million contract. He was suspended for the first five games of the regular season for violating the league's anti-drug policy. J.R. also expressed his frustration on social media after his brother, Chris, was cut from the team.

On the court, Smith has struggled to rebound from his knee surgery, scoring nearly seven fewer points per game than he did last season.

But Smith showed Saturday just how vital he can be to the Knicks (14-22). He finished with 14 points and six assists and New York outscored the Sixers by 20 with him on the floor on its way to a 102-92 victory.

"I just wanted to be aggressive, attack, get back to my old self, play with a chip on my shoulder," Smith said. "And it worked."

It worked against Philly. And Smith said all the right things after the game. But given his track record, it's fair to wonder how long the good times will last. Smith was on his best behavior last season, when he was playing for a contract. But, coincidence or not, he's caused several distractions for the Knicks this year.

The latest instance was the shoelace stunt that cost him a $50,000 fine and led to his benching Thursday.

"It's the worst feeling in the world," Smith said of getting benched.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson has been silent on Smith's antics for the last couple of days. But he blasted the reigning Sixth Man award winner Wednesday in an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. Woodson called Smith "unprofessional" and said that the shooting guard needed to "grow up."

"He's been telling me that since I got here," Smith said Saturday morning. "Honestly, 'growing up,' I don't know if I really understand the true meaning of it."

And that's the issue here for the organization. The people paying Smith's salary have to wonder if he'll truly get the message this time around.

It sounds as if Anthony isn't 100 percent sold.

"I think there's certain situations where you just have to open your eyes and look yourself in the mirror and [say] it's time for me to change myself," he said, putting himself in Smith's shoes. "Everybody else is giving [me] chances and everybody else wants [me] to change but if [I'm] not changing myself, it's irrelevant."

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