Isola: Like Knicks, J.R. Smith ‘illness’ is head-scratcher

By on December 1, 2014

J.R. Smith is pulled for what Derek Fisher describes as Elsa/Getty Images J.R. Smith is pulled for what Derek Fisher describes as “feeling ill,” though it could be more than that. 

J.R. Smith was on the bench feverishly rubbing and scratching his head as if he were starring in a shampoo commercial.

He certainly looked bewildered and frustrated immediately after being pulled by Derek Fisher in the second quarter, never to see the floor again in the Knicks’ 86-79 loss to the Miami Heat. Fisher would later say that Smith was removed because the enigmatic shooting guard was feeling ill, even though Smith wasn’t sick enough to leave the bench for treatment.

So we’ll take Fisher at his word unless Smith says otherwise, which is unlikely since the Knicks go to great lengths to paint a picture of being a unified group even as everything around them is falling apart. FYI: Smith left the locker room without speaking with reporters, which was probably good for both Fisher and Smith. Who knows, may J.R. was rushing home for chicken soup.

Meanwhile, the Knicks are 4-14, one game worse than last year’s 37-win team after 18 games. They are regressing but at least they like each other. And that’s certainly comforting.

Smith played just 5 minutes and 34 seconds which is less than Jason Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Travis Wear, Shane Larkin. And this was a night when the Knicks needed scoring. Say what you will about Smith, but he’s played hurt and sick throughout his years with the Knicks. Last season, much to his detriment, Smith returned much too soon from knee surgery. A head cold isn’t stopping him.

There’s nothing wrong with Fisher benching any player. And there’s nothing wrong with Smith being upset about it. This was routine stuff for Jeff Van Gundy and John Starks back in the day. They’d argue and the next day they went back to work. Fisher and Smith are quite capable of doing the same.

But the image of Smith’s epic head scratching seems appropriate since the Knicks as a group induce plenty of head scratching. You don’t know when or if they’ll figure out the triangle or whether Fisher will ever settle on a set rotation. Better yet, no one knows when they’ll win again. In case you’re wondering, the Knicks don’t play Philadelphia until Jan. 21.

“I don’t want to get used to losing,” said Carmelo Anthony, who returned after missing two games with back spasms.

The return of Anthony and Phil Jackson was overshadowed by the return of Dwyane Wade, the breaking-down superstar who has one more title than LeBron and three more than Melo. Wade scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter as Miami held off a late rally to hand the Knicks their fourth straight loss.

Wade had missed seven games with a hamstring injury, but of course he returned to face the Knicks. Perhaps, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook was Wade’s inspiration. Westbrook missed four weeks with a broken hand and suddenly looked like the MVP in last Friday’s blowout win.

“I had a little spurt where I felt good,” Wade said.

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Anthony, who missed losses to Dallas and OKC, gave the Knicks a much needed lift by scoring 31 points in 41 minutes. Like Smith, Melo also has flaws but has an impressive

history of playing hurt. He doesn’t like to sit.

“If I can go, I can go,” he said. “That’s my mindset. I haven’t felt like that before with my back but I felt good about going out there today.”

Anthony struggled in the final minute when the Knicks were making what amounted to a token comeback. He misfired on a three, committed a turnover and missed a short jumper in the lane on three consecutive possessions.

Luckily for Fisher and the Knicks, they reside in the Eastern Conference, a place where you’re never really out of it despite your record. Still, you would hope the Knicks with Carmelo would be better than Miami without LeBron, but that’s not the case. Chalk that up to an owner (Micky Arison) and a team president (Pat Riley) who have created a culture and who have had sustained success over 20 years.

The Heat was technically the biggest loser in free agency because the best player on the planet decided to take his talents back to Cleveland. Riley, however, managed to retain Chris Bosh and sign a couple of Duke guys, Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. The Heat is no longer championship material but Miami will stay competitive while Riley plots yet another way to rebuild his club.

“Never doubt Pat Riley,” Wade said. “And never doubt Micky Arison. They’ve done it before. They’ll do it again.”

Any way you slice it, the worst loss the Knicks have suffered in 20 years was Riley faxing in his resignation to run the Heat. He’s proven that he can coach a championship team and build one. Riley’s long-time rival, Jackson, needs to prove the latter.

Jackson was in attendance on Sunday following a brief return home to Los Angeles to visit his personal doctors and spend time with his fiancée, Jeanie Buss. Riley, like Jackson, doesn’t normally travel to road games. Too bad, because it would have been a cool scene to see the two adversaries cross paths. Maybe one day their teams will meet in a playoff series.

You know the Miami Heat will be there. The Knicks? That’s a head scratcher. 

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