Independence (92.3 the Fan) – J.R. Smith expects to play Thursday night in Indiana.
He has not asked the Cavaliers yet if he will be cleared to return from his left hamstring issue, but all indications at practice on Wednesday pointed to yes, as the shooter ran full-court for shooting drills, draining the majority of his shots.
Smith still kept potential bad news at arm’s length.
“They haven’t told me that,” he said. “I don’t want to ask, so I figure I’ll find out game time when y’all find out. I don’t like sitting out. I’ve sat out enough.”
The 2016-17 season has not been one chock full of great news for Smith between injury and the birth of his daughter, Dakota, coming five months premature.
That is not to say that the birth was not a miracle, but obviously a serious situation for Smith and his family. The news has only gotten more miraculous as baby Dakota has grown from one pound at birth, now tipping the scales at 4.7 pounds.
“She’s doing good,” Smith said. “She is going unbelievable numbers. The doctor said she’s off the charts. So you have just got to take it day-by-day and hopefully she will be home soon.”
Smith also shared a photo on Saturday, showing Dakota getting her first bottle, fed to her by her father.
“I’ve got an unbelieveable wife, so she made sure I was the first one who was able to give (Dakota) a bottle,” Smith said. “I can’t say enough about her because she’s been there, literally, all day, every day since – I think it is 108 days? She has been there, and for her to let me do things is pretty cool and I appreciate that from her.”
When the news began being discussed at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the tone of questions changed, with basketball taking a backseat and life coming to the forefront.
The 31-year old was injured on December 20th in Milwaukee before having surgery to repair his fractured thumb just days before his third daughter came into the world unexpectedly in early January.
Smith and head coach Ty Lue agreed that, had Smith not broken that thumb and missed the next 35 games, his family situation would have most likely taken him from the team for a similar timeframe.
“That’s a delicate situation. Family is first,” Lue said. “When you’re going through certain situations, all we can do is be there to support you and give you a helping hand, or whatever you need. That was a serious situation.”
According to Smith, Dakota was the size of his iPhone when he first saw her on January 2nd, speaking to the wonder of progress made by his daughter. He also took the time to thank those who have been involved in Dakota’s healthcare.
“The things they really do in that building or around the globe, those people are really life-changers,” he said. “I go out there and perform in front of 20,000 people, but the pressure they are under is second-to-none. Because people are looking at you like, ‘that’s my child, I’ve got to depend on you to look after my child in the most vulnerable state. I have to depend on you, I have to rely on you.’ Those are the real heroes.”
While life off the court persists, with its ups and downs, the Cavaliers now hold a 2-0 lead over the Pacers in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. When Smith did not return in the second half of Game 2, Iman Shumpert took his place and did his best job of accepting the assignment to guard All-Star forward Paul George.
Shumpert limited the seemingly-unstoppable George after the Georgia Tech product did not see action in Game 1 of the series.
“He did a hell of a job,” Smith said. “Came in, played great defense, forced a couple of turnovers, hit two big shots for us. So, he stayed professional through the whole process, which is all you can ask. Because it is a tough task to grasp when you’re starting at one point during the season when I was hurt, playing well, and then not play Game One, and not play the first half, then go out there and perform. You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
If he returns as he expects, Smith says he is itching to get back to his defensive assignment, viewing it as a personal challenge to guard the best player on the opposition. He called the match-ups against the likes of George and Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, ‘my talent versus your talent.’
If Smith were not able to go on Thursday in Indianapolis, it would just be more adversity for a team that has seen plenty this season. Between Smith’s family emergency and Channing Frye losing both of his parents, there has been enough grief to go around.
“We’ve been challenged off the court, we’ve been challenged on it,” Smith said. “We’ve been challenged with injuries. If there is any team or group of guys who understand how to persevere and get through what we’ve gone through, it’s this group of guys.
“I don’t even know how many guys we’ve had on the roster just coming in and out of the season, it’s been a lot. Obviously, we’re not making any excuses for ourselves, but we do pat ourselves on the back for that, because it’s not an easy thing to get through. Especially coming back the defending champs. So there is nothing we take lightly, nothing we take for granted, and we just try to get better as people and players every day.”