J.R. Smith gets back on court with Nuggets

Updated: January 11, 2007, 12:24 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- One back, one to go.

Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith returned from his 10-game suspension for fighting, but wasn't in the starting lineup Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

J.R. Smith

Smith was at the center of the fight between the Nuggets and New York Knicks that spilled into the stands at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16, which led to 10 ejections and seven suspensions.

Carmelo Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, got the harshest punishment, a 15-game suspension. He won't be back until Jan. 22, when Denver plays Memphis at the Pepsi Center.

The brawl began when Mardy Collins prevented Smith from an easy basket by grabbing him around the neck and taking him to the floor in the final minute of a blowout win by the Nuggets. Just as things appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that floored Collins.

Smith got a loud ovation when he checked in with 5:35 remanning in the first quarter and an even louder one when he took a pass from Iverson from the top of the circle for an alley-oop dunk in the final minute of the first quarter.

Smith's rust showed in errant 3-pointers, an early traveling violation and an ill-advised behind-the-back pass that went straight to Robert Horry -- just the kind of play coach George Karl had admonished him not to attempt in his first game back.

Smith also didn't get many calls despite getting hammered in the lane a few times. He ended up hitting 5 of 13 shots for 12 points as the Nuggets lost to the Spurs 92-83.

During the last 10 games, Smith and Anthony had to leave the Pepsi Center two hours before tip-off. They'd head to Anthony's house to watch their teammates on television.

Afterward, the two would drive back to the arena for intense 90-minute games of 1-on-1.

"I just saw it as a chance to get better on defense because I get to guard Melo every day," Smith said. "So, playing against him I think is going to help me when I play other teams."

Smith and Anthony were the league's top scoring tandem when they were banned from basketball.

The day after their suspensions, the Nuggets acquired Allen Iverson from the Philadelphia 76ers. Although there's been lots of talk about how Melo and A.I. will do together, there's sure to be some reassigning of roles as Smith and then Anthony work their way back into game shape.

Still, Smith said that after he and Melo shake off the rust, the duo will be better than before.

"I think we bonded a lot during that period," Smith said. "So, now when we get back on the court, I think it will be magic because now I know what he likes to do a lot more and he knows what I like to do."

Karl took Smith aside at the shootaround Wednesday and admonished him not to try to pick up where he left off last month, when he scored in double figures in eight of the nine games he played.

"I know he's very excited. I just hope we can use his energy positively and fit him back in and get him indoctrinated into the team," Karl said.

Karl said the Nuggets didn't have a chance to scrimmage as much as he'd like to keep Smith and Melo in rhythm over the last three weeks.

"I think it's going to be a process until next week where players regain their familiarity by playing in games," Karl said.

"It's not going to happen in practice."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press