The New York Knicks won the Atlantic Division for the first time in 19 years and secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference in large part thanks to Carmelo Anthony, who picked up his first scoring title, but J.R. Smith did his part, too. The 27-year-old Smith averaged a career-high 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in a well-timed career year, because he is going to cash in on it as a free agent this offseason.
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Smith is technically not a free agent quite yet, but he holds a $2.9 million player option for next season that he will almost certainly decline. After earning $2.8 million this season, Smith is in line for a huge payday this summer and may add some more millions to his upcoming contract with a big playoffs.
The Boston Celtics, New York's first-round opponent, have caused Smith some problems this season, though. When the two teams first met the first time in January, Smith dropped 24 points, shooting 17-of-28. But when they met again two weeks later the tables were turned. Smith made just three of 16 shots and totaled just nine points in a disastrous game for the shooting guard.
Smith improved slightly when the two teams met on March 31, managing 15 points and 12 rebounds, but he shot just 4-of-12 as he struggled once again to knock down shots against the Celtics.
The Knicks are favorites to upend the Celtics and advance to the second round, where Smith might get another chance to boost that impending free-agent contract, but it starts against Boston. With Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams and Jason Terry, the Celtics have four guys they can run at Smith and give him new looks. That's something Smith is going to have to sort out, because his latest performances against Boston aren't going to cut it.
Smith has lit it up all season and now that it's playoffs time, the spotlight is really on. There will be millions of dollars waiting for him this offseason, and if he can keep his career year going through the postseason there will be millions more.
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