NEW YORK -- You wouldn’t think the words “J.R. Smith” and “serious” belong in the same sentence.
Remember, we’re talking about a guy who was fined and benched for untying his opponents’ shoelaces. A guy who has been docked $50,000 for sending out tweets the NBA deemed offensive.
So what you’re about to read may surprise you. Smith said on Thursday that he has taken a more serious approach to his job recently.
“Just being professional on and off the court as much as I can,” Smith said. “This is my 10th year, of course it sounds like that old broken record, but you can never be too cautious about your job. Anybody’s job is replaceable and I understand that. I’m just taking it as seriously as I can.”
Smith’s new approach seems to be paying dividends for New York.
The reigning Sixth Man award winner has scored 16.4 points per game on 45 percent shooting since being benched on Jan. 14 against Charlotte. He has knocked down 44 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“I think he’s playing more relaxed, engaged, in tune to what we want done from a basketball standpoint,” coach Mike Woodson said, “and it’s working for him.”
It’s also working for the Knicks.
Smith poured in 19 points Thursday to help New York rout Cleveland for its fourth straight win.
He had 11 in the first quarter -- including a highlight-reel drive and dunk on Anthony Bennett -- to help the Knicks build a 17-point lead. Smith’s surgically-repaired knee seems to be fully healthy.
“You can see him getting his explosiveness back,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He’s getting some of his pop back and it’s helping him from a confidence standpoint, to be able to do things that before maybe he couldn’t do.”
Smith missed training camp because of knee surgery and was suspended for the first five games of the year for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
He had an awful start to the season, scoring 12.1 points per game on 35 percent shooting. Things got worse earlier this month when Smith was fined $50,000 for attempting to untie his opponents’ shoelaces. Woodson benched him for a nationally-televised game against Miami, and then benched him a second time for being late for a team meeting.
Since then, Smith’s teammates have seen a different player.
“It was just time for him to really have some time with himself, ask himself, does he really want it?” Anthony said. “He controls his own destiny at this point. He’s stepped up to the plate and he’s put that behind him and he’s playing good basketball.”
You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.