Though he can't make up for what Tyson Chandler brings to the New York Knicks, J.R. Smith's return could certainly provide a boost.
As they continue adjusting to Chandler's absence, the Knicks hope Smith's season debut can spark them to a victory over the Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year was suspended for the season's first five games for violating the league's anti-drug program. Smith was New York's second-leading scorer last season at 18.1 points per game and averaged 33.5 minutes, though coach Mike Woodson said he's unlikely to reach 30 against the Spurs.
"We just gotta make sure that mentally he's there. Can't burn him physically," Woodson said. "... He'll just come in and fill in and do what he does to help us win."
Woodson added that he'll bring Smith off the bench, wanting to try the same lineup he used Friday in the team's first game after losing Chandler for four to six weeks to a broken bone in his right leg.
While Pablo Prigioni joined fellow point guard Raymond Felton in the starting backcourt, offseason acquisition Andrea Bargnani moved into Chandler's spot at center and came through with his best performance. Bargnani did a good impression of the former Defensive Player of the Year with five blocks and eight rebounds while also scoring 25 points in the 101-91 win at Charlotte.
"It seemed like tonight he wasn't hesitating and he had that shoot-first mentality, which I like," said Carmelo Anthony, who had 28 points.
However, neither Bargnani nor Smith have the defensive and rebounding prowess of Chandler, something which could be a big disadvantage against San Antonio (5-1). Chandler had double-doubles in both meetings last season as New York (2-3) swept the series for the first time in a decade, and he helped hold Tim Duncan to a combined 25 points. Smith averaged 18.5 points in the two games.
Chandler's absence also could create room inside for Tony Parker, averaging 20.7 points on 59.5 percent shooting during the Spurs' current three-game win streak.
"Parker's a load for all teams," Woodson said. "... It's gonna take a total team effort (defensively) in terms of him having to see a wall. If it's just you and him, you can forget about it."
Parker had the Spurs' last seven points in a 76-74 win over Golden State on Friday, two nights after scoring 15 of their final 16 in a 99-96 victory over Phoenix.
"Again, Tony made some huge buckets to keep the lead when we were dry," Manu Ginobili said after Friday's win.
Ginobili has averaged 7.0 points on 8-of-31 shooting over the last three games, though his team has won them all in part by forcing an average of 20.3 turnovers.
"It's better to start winning than losing, but I don't think we're playing good basketball yet," he said. "We've got a long, long way to go."
Duncan shot 3 for 11 and had eight points Friday after averaging 19.3 in the previous three games.
Anthony has scored 60 over the last two games after totaling 63 through the first three.
New York snapped a three-game losing streak Friday and now looks to avoid losing three consecutive home games for the first time since January 2012.