NEW YORK –– J.R. Smith was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2004 and lived through Hurricane Katrina first-hand a year later.
Now, seven years after Katrina, Smith’s native New Jersey has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and once again he’s seeing the damage and destruction up close.
“Just going to the Shore, the Jersey area, it just wasn’t the same,” Smith said after putting up 20 points off the bench, including 4-for-5 from downtown, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in the Knicks’ 100-84 victory over the 76ers Sunday at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are now 2-0 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
“This is my second hurricane as a team,” Smith added. “One was Katrina and now Sandy, so it’s just tough. It gets kind of old and tired of seeing it, and just feeling for everybody else around you. It’s tough.”
Smith, who played for former St. Benedict’s Prep coach Dan Hurley and with the Playaz Basketball Club, is originally from Millstone, N.J. His parents still live there.
Even though the area is inland and away from the Shore, Smith knows plenty of people whose lives have been forever changed by the storm.
“It affected my house pretty bad,” Smith said. “My mom’s house, rather. A lot of my family, aunts, uncles, cousins not doing so well. But it’s just trying times, you just gotta [have] everybody stick together.”
Despite the personal nature of the storm, Smith played a stellar game Sunday, going 8-for-15 from the field, including three 3-pointers in the final period, when the Knicks outscored the Sixers, 25-18.
“He is more under control,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “Shooters are going to take some bad shots. That is just the nature of our game. I don’t mind that, as long as he is defending and doing the necessary things to help us win.
“Offensively, I have to help him because he is so talented in terms of being able to create a shot and make shots himself. He is so talented.”
Woodson said he actually had to encourage Smith to shoot it more.
“I was yelling at him to shoot the ball,” Woodson said. “That’s what I want him to do. I gotta put him in better position. I gotta try to make it a little bit more easier for him to score the ball.”
Smith, who has never met a shot he didn’t like, said he’s never been told to shoot more.
“Nah, never,” he said. “I been asked so many times not to shoot, it’s kind of weird. I shot a few bad shots. I started hearing a few boos from the crowd so that kind of messed with my head a little bit. He tells me to keep shooting I gotta keep shooting.”
Smith now has six 3-pointers on the season for a Knicks’ team that has made 30 overall in two games.
“Our blueprint is to play defense and move the ball to the open man and just keep playing hard,” Smith said.
After the win, Smith headed out to watch one of his fellow New Jersey natives, former Playaz teammate Victor Cruz of the Giants.
Two New Jersey products trying to bring a little joy back into the lives of those from their home state.
***For more on the game, read my NBA.com notebook with Video, Notes and Quotes here.