Is Momentum in J.R. Smith’s Favor as Knicks Eye Playoffs?

Heading into Friday night's game against Suns, the Knicks are sitting anxiously just a game and a half behind the Atlanta Hawks and the Eastern Conference's eighth & final playoff spot. With a win in Phoenix, they'll be just a mere game away going into the weekend.

Without Al Horford to help lead the way, Atlanta has stumbled mightily as of late. They've lost their last five games, following a winning streak that was just as long. On the flip side, the Knicks have won eight of their last ten. What's more, the Hawks have just an 11-26 record on the road, next to New York's 14-21. The former will be in Washington to face off against the Wizards on Saturday.

After a frustrating loss to the Cavaliers this past Sunday, and an even more demoralizing one to the Lakers later in the week, momentum isn't exactly completely in the Knicks' favor. Instead, they stand a chance more so because of the fact that the Hawks have utterly no momentum at all themselves.

Having said that, one player currently donning orange and blue who does in fact seem to have momentum on his side is J.R. Smith. After coming away with the "Sixth Man of the Year" award last season, the swingman began following up such a campaign with the new season in quite a tail spin. Suspensions, fines, disciplinary issues, and even more erratic shooting nights were previously the highlights (or better said, low-lights) of Smith's season heading into March.

But since then, something has certainly changed.

In thirteen games this season, Smith has begun to soar. He's averaged 15.3 points on 46% from the field, 44% from deep, and 78% from the charity stripe. Such a point average, and all subsequent shooting percentages, represent season-highs for the swingman.

Whereas most of those numbers aren't quite nearly as high (his three-point percentage this season is actually higher than last) as the previous season, there's nothing to worry about. Instead, Smith should be praised at this point in the year. Catching fire this month, he's been as efficient as ever, serving as a clutch scorer as he plays within his means and gives the Knicks exactly what they've needed down this most recent stretch of games.

Last season, Smith not led only led all scorers off NBA benches, but also served as New York's second leading scorer behind Carmelo Anthony. With the re-emergence of Amar'e Stoudemire and the pleasantly surprising increased offensive production of Tyson Chandler, Smith hasn't been depended on nearly as desperately. 

That's what makes the recent injection of life he's provided the Knicks with as of late all the more sweeter.