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Jenni Carlson: A ‘Bad J.R.' can be good for Thunder

by Jenni Carlson Published: April 22, 2011

DENVER — J.R. Smith has become a liability on the court and a distraction off the court for the Nuggets in these playoffs.

Yet, he's still the guy the Thunder should fear most.

After a pair of dreadful performances in the first two games of this Western Conference series, the Denver guard used the Nuggets' off day to create controversy. He expressed frustration about lack of playing time. He said this was a team without a pulse. He admitted there's a strong possibility he'll sign with another team this summer.

His current team spent the eve of Game 3 answering for his comments.

“J.R.'s fine,” Nuggets captain Kenyon Martin said. “You guys are blowing it out of proportion, man. We're all right over here.”

Asked a follow-up question about Smith's potential, Martin cut it off.

“Listen, if y'all want to talk about J.R., go talk to J.R.,” he said, the volume and the intensity of his voice rising. “All right? Like I just said, we're fine. As a team, we're fine, him included.”

Nuggets coach George Karl told reporters: “That you're magnifying what happened (Thursday) is incredible. We had a good day. ... Unfortunately, you want to magnify the dysfunctional and crazy — and history allows you to do that — but I really think it is incorrect and wrong because it's not the truth of what really happened.”

Hmm, the Nuggets doth protest too much, methinks.

Denver seemed like a team in trouble after Game 2. Now, this appears to be a team in turmoil.

Crazy thing is, Smith could be the guy who saves the day. Yes, Arron Afflalo is returning to the lineup, but no one could provide a bigger spark than Smith. Good J.R. could get hot, score 30 points, shift the momentum and extend this series.

Or Bad J.R. could hasten the Nuggets' demise.

Either is as likely as the other.

“He's the X factor,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “I've seen him score 40 multiple times. He's definitely capable of doing that, so you've always got to keep your eye on him.”

Smith might be one of the best athletes in the NBA, and that's saying something. He can get to the rim. He can hit from behind the arch. He can make it all look effortless, too.

How dangerous is Smith?

Thunder defensive whiz Kendrick Perkins took special note of Smith in his pre-series prep.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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