LOS ANGELES -- With All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler out of the lineup, the New York Knicks have struggled with offensive consistency. Most of the scoring load has fallen on J.R. Smith, which has produced mixed results.
Smith is certainly enjoying his larger role in the offense and is scoring more frequently, but it hasn’t translated into wins. Smith went 4-of-20 from the field Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, and is averaging 18.5 points on 35.9 percent shooting for the road trip. The Clippers were able to force Smith into a lot of tough shots.
"They did a great job of trying to deny me the ball, keeping me out of the paint and playing physical," Smith said. "They contested every jump shot."
Before the game, head coach Mike Woodson praised Smith’s development and maturation over the course of the season. While previous coaches have been harder on Smith, and less forgiving of his sometimes-questionable antics off the court, Woodson saw the opportunity to coach Smith as a challenge and teaching experience.
"You view all players differently. You don’t treat them all the same. I just saw something in J.R. when we made the move to bring him over that maybe other coaches didn’t see," Woodson said.
"He’s a player that’s been around, but he’s also a player that’s still learning how to accept the role that he’s been put into. ... There’s a lot of things we ask him to do, and I still think he’s learning how to do all those things."
WOE IS 'O': While Smith adjusts to his fluctuating roll, the Knicks are spiraling out of control, especially on offense. Their defense hasn’t been bad, but they just haven’t been able to put the ball in the bucket. New York shot just 35.8 percent against the Clippers and only attempted 14 free throws (compared to the Clippers’ 31). The Knicks need their stars back soon or things might get worse.
"Obviously those two guys are definitely a big part of our offense," said Raymond Felton. "Tyson sets a lot of good screens for us and gets us a lot of extra possessions with tip-outs on the offensive boards. Melo is our leading scorer, the guy who hits big shots for us. We a little short-handed in that sense, offensively."
HOMESICK: The Knicks have now lost four games in a row by an average of 20 points. Next up is a hungry Utah Jazz squad that is neck-and-neck with the Los Angeles Lakers for the eight-seed out West. The Jazz are also vying for revenge against the Knicks after a 113-84 New York thrashing in Madison Square Garden on March 9th.
The Knicks haven’t won a road game since March 6th in Detroit, but don’t tell them that. They’re trying to put their recent struggles behind them and move on.
"We can’t dwell on these losses," Felton said. "We have to just put them behind us. We’re still in a good place. We have to try to buckle down and get this last win to build some momentum before we go back home."
Besides their lead in the standings, nothing has changed for the Knicks. After today’s loss, New York has only a half-game lead over their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are creeping up just two and a half games back.
"We still have the playoffs to worry about. We still have a goal to reach, and that’s to win our division and still be in the top-two or three in the East before the end of the year," Felton said.
HARD FEELINGS: Knicks forward Kenyon Martin played for the Clippers last season, but it’s clear the breakup between the two sides was a bit messy and Martin still holds some bitterness.
When asked about the Clippers, Martin quickly snapped: "I don’t care what they do, to be honest with you. I hope they lose every game."
After a few more game-related questions, the topic of the Clippers’ fast breaking and dunking style arose, and Martin said, “They can’t do it in the playoffs, so it doesn’t matter. Regular season, it’s all up-and-down. We know how the game goes in the regular season.”
Finally, I asked him why there was bad blood between him and the Clippers and he simply said, "Next question."