CLEVELAND -- For much of the 2017-2018 regular season, there just seemed to be something off with the game of Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith.
But since the calendar flipped to February, Smith has started to find his rhythm again, as he has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, including 15 in Sunday’s 121-99 win over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
“Just getting a carefree attitude on the offensive end and just trying to be scrappy and be active on the defensive end, so yeah,” Smith said after Monday’s practice ahead of the trip to Oklahoma City for tonight’s game against the Thunder.
PHOTOS: J.R. Smith feels like his old self again for Cleveland Cavaliers
Smith was the subject of rumors and reports throughout the build-up to last Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and despite the Cavaliers making three deals in the final hours that saw six players and a first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft in return for four athletes and a future selection, the veteran shooter remains with the team.
Since the deadline passed Thursday, Smith has averaged 11 points, four rebounds, 1.5 assists, one blocked shot and one steal over 29 minutes of play in a pair of lopsided wins for the Cavaliers at the Atlanta Hawks and Celtics.
“It’s the most I’ve heard my name at the trade deadline, but no to the sense of just trying to do what’s best for the team,” Smith said. “Regardless of if you come or go, or whatever the situation is, you always want to play better, and that was my main focus, just playing better.”
An hour after making their first trade at the deadline, the Cavaliers sent shooting guard Iman Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings, as well as point guard Derrick Rose and small forward Jae Crowder to the Utah Jazz in exchange for shooting guard Rodney Hood (Utah) and point guard George Hill (Sacramento).
To complete the deal, the Jazz sent Joe Johnson to Sacramento.
“Obviously, we’ve got a hell of a point guard in George who can guard one, two and three, so it’s not really an ‘I’ve got to switch out a position and guard this guy. He likes to post up,’” Smith said. “I really get to guard the twos.”
In addition to the passing of the trade deadline, Smith has gotten plenty of peer coaching from fellow guard Kyle Korver recently. Smith is averaging 3.4 made three-pointers for game and shooting 51.5 percent from beyond the arc since the start of February, both of which are well above his previous highs for a month this season.
“The funny thing about Kyle is he tells me to catch and shoot every time I get it, no matter if I’m in transition or on a spot-up off the dribble,” Smith said. “He just tells me, ‘Whenever you get it, just shoot it. Let it go and believe it’s going in,’ so that’s what I’ve been doing lately, regardless of if it’s transition or I’m off-balance. Those are the shots that I’m accustomed to hitting, so just shoot them.”
JR Smith was once in the dunk contest, in case you forgot. pic.twitter.com/cEz1R7T2t4— Martenzie Johnson (@Martenzie) February 11, 2018
Although Smith is in his 14th NBA season, he still has plenty of energy left to help lead the team.
Early against the Celtics, Smith showed that spry nature when he swept the ball through a strip attempt, dribbled into the lane past former teammate Kyrie Irving and threw down a monstrous one-handed dunk in traffic that set a tone for remainder of the game.
“I was just trying to get to the basket, really get to my floater,” Smith said with a smile, “and once I’d seen how open the lane was, I figured, ‘The hell with it. Why not? Show the new guys what I’ve got.’”