Carmelo Anthony played five and 1/2 seasons with J.R. Smith in Denver, and he saw the sixth man sometimes put up 30 points off the bench, hit 11 3-pointers one time in 2009 and help lead the team to four straight playoff appearances, including a trip to the conference finals.
This season, Anthony has seen Smith hit two game-winning shots and score 20 or more points in eight of 10 games from late December to early January.
But now coming off three straight performances scoring 30 or more points -- the latest (37) coming on Friday night in a win over the Bobcats -- this is the best the Knicks' star has ever seen Smith on the court. Along with his defense (six steals in the past three games), Smith has helped lead the Knicks to a seven-game winning streak -- the longest one in the league.
"I've never [seen him play] the way he's playing right now," Anthony said. "I've seen him have his spurts, have his runs before, have some outstanding games, but the way he has it locked in right now, his focus level I haven't seen that in a long time."
"J.R.'s playing so complete right now, man. It's nice to see," said Mike Woodson.
It was the first time since March 1990 that a player coming off the bench (Ricky Pierce) has scored 30 or more in three straight games. More remarkably, Smith's points have only included six 3-pointers. He's shot a LeBron-esque 25-for-35 in the paint.
Smith even stunned himself, saying he's never been this good in the league.
"Nah, not like this," he said. "The last one like this was in high school, and that was too easy. I mean, I've got a great cast with Melo and Ray -- we have so many threats out there. ... It just so happens to be my turn."
What's been Smith's main focus?
"I'm making it a conscious effort to attack the basket, getting to the free throw line," he said.
With Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined due to injuries, the Knicks have needed another inside threat besides Anthony. While Smith said he hasn't factored in the absence of the two bigs, his scoring down low has been huge. Tonight, while Anthony shot 9-for-10 from the foul line, Smith was 11-for-12. No one else had more than four free throw attempts.
Smith has been much quicker with his ballhandling and he's been exploding to the basket much faster. He's not holding the rock as long and not stepping back into contested fadeaways. His typical move has consisted of two crossover dribbles and then a drive, sometimes including a spin move on the way to the basket, and finishing with a soaring, strong layup.
"He's focused. He's dialed in, he's locked in," Anthony said. "He's playing extremely well right now and his confidence is sky high. We're following his lead right now."
So what's next for Smith? As Raymond Felton said afterward, "Keep it going."
"I'm going to keep going to the basket, that's for sure, so [teams are] going to have to figure that out," Smith said. "Playing with Melo, it's so hard to defend him and teams are really going in with the majority mindset of how to defend him, and it just so happens I've got it going.
"We're in a great groove. We're starting to jump out on teams early, playing great defense, communication is up and we're getting to the free throw line and making our free throws. We're tough to beat like that."
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