Mike Woodson talked and gestured with his hands. J. R. Smith sat and listened.
The contents of the five-minute conversation would mostly remain private, but there was certainly discussion of expectations and professionalism and the need to stay cool when times are tense.
“I don’t want him to get caught up in the moment,” Woodson said afterward. “I want him to be a professional basketball player, have fun playing and let’s see what happens from there. That’s my job, to make sure he succeeds in that area.”
This was not so much a meeting as an ongoing discussion, one that began shortly after Woodson was named interim coach three weeks ago. Smith is as impulsive as he is talented, a combination that has invited occasional trouble in his eight-year career. Woodson has persistently, firmly (and sometimes publicly) engaged Smith, repeatedly emphasizing the need to control his emotions.
The concern surfaced again Tuesday night in Indiana, when Smith was ejected for slamming to the court in the final seconds of a 112-104 loss to the Pacers. Woodson initially called the act unprofessional and said he would speak to Smith about it. By Wednesday, Woodson had modified his assessment.
“When I went back and watched it, I didn’t think anything was wrong with it,” Woodson said after a brief practice to prepare for Thursday’s game against the Magic.
The N.B.A. also reconsidered. After reviewing the play Wednesday, league officials downgraded the foul call against Smith to a flagrant-1.
Barbosa and Smith had been tangling with each other while running up the court and were still tussling when Smith — clearly irritated — threw Barbosa down. Joey Crawford, the veteran referee, called Smith for a flagrant-2, an automatic ejection.
“The kid had him locked up, and he just threw him off of him,” Woodson said, adding, “I probably would have done the same thing.”
But, Woodson said: “That’s not why I was sitting there talking to J. R. It’s a lot of other things. He’s just got to be more professional about how he handles things. My job as a coach is to make sure he gets there.”
Smith said Woodson’s message was “just to keep my composure and stay positive.” He acknowledged that his emotions sometimes get the best of him — as they did in a March 16 game against Indiana, when he drew a technical foul for taunting.
“I think I burn a lot of energy on getting a little too hyped,” Smith said. “I think I can use that energy on the other end of the court.”
Smith’s playing time has steadily increased under Woodson, who seems to trust him more than Mike D’Antoni did. Smith has become even more vital since the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin to injuries. He is averaging 31.4 minutes over the last five games, serving as the primary backup at both shooting guard and small forward.
“I think Coach gives me a lot of leeway to be able to do what I do,” Smith said. “He trusts me out there on the court to hit those shots or come up with big plays on the other end. That’s the confidence I need.”
For all of his talent, Smith has largely been a disappointment since joining the Knicks in late February. He is shooting a career-low .379 from the field, .292 from 3-point range, and just .667 from the foul line.
Meanwhile, Smith has lived up to his reputation as a gunner, shooting frequently and without much regard for the context of the game. He was 3 of 11 against Indiana and 2 of 10 in the Knicks’ recent loss to Atlanta. He has converted 50 percent or more of his attempts in only 6 of 23 games.
But Smith has endeared himself to Woodson and his teammates with his tenacity on defense, a side that he has shown only sporadically over his career. That sort of play will buy him some latitude with Woodson.
“I can’t have him on a roller coaster in terms of his play,” Woodson said, adding, “He can’t tease me one game and not give it to me the next game.”
Smith’s most costly lapse Tuesday night was not the ejection (which came with just 10.7 seconds left), but a turnover he committed seconds earlier, when his baseline inbounds pass was intercepted and dunked by Paul George.
“My biggest regret is losing the game,” Smith said. “I mean, not one play. We had a 15-, 17-point lead. And for another team to come back and beat us in the fourth quarter alone, I mean that’s my biggest regret, period.”
Orlando was listing Dwight Howard (back spasms) and Jameer Nelson (sore calf) as game-time decisions. … Jared Jeffries (sore knee) said he planned to resume running Friday. If all goes well, he could be available for Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls. … Steve Novak was amused, not offended, when Indiana’s Danny Granger imitated his championship-belt gesture after a late 3-pointer Tuesday. “I appreciate the shout-out,” Novak said with a smile. “Glad he noticed.”