INDEPENDENCE — There’s a lot of uncertainty and adversity in J.R. Smith’s life right now, but he’s dealing with it.
That’s true of his left hamstring injury, but it applies even more to his 41⁄2-month-old daughter, Dakota, who was born nearly five months prematurely on Jan. 2, weighing 1 pound. Still hospitalized, Dakota’s weight is up to 4 pounds, 7 ounces.
“You can’t separate the two because it’s life,” the Cavaliers shooting guard said Wednesday. “For me, it goes hand in hand. So many relationships, the life I live is because of basketball. The only reason why I’m able to provide and have the family the way I have is because of my basketball stature and what I’ve been able to do at this point in my life.
“(Dakota’s health), that’s obviously No. 1. She’s doing good. We can’t complain. She’s doing unbelievable numbers. The doctor says she’s off the charts. We’ve just got to take it day by day and hopefully one day soon she’ll come home.”
As far as basketball goes, Smith went through practice after sitting out the second half of Cleveland’s 117-111 Game 2 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena.
Asked if Smith would play tonight in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, coach Tyronn Lue said, “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Smith, who was angry when the Cavs told him he couldn’t play in the second half of Game 2, underwent an MRI that showed nothing negative.
ut with a 2-0 lead in the series, there’s a chance Cleveland may take the cautious approach and elect to start Iman Shumpert, who played well after not getting off the bench for the first six quarters of the postseason.
“I’m all right,” Smith said. “I can’t complain. (I) went through practice. (We’ll) see what happens tomorrow.
“They haven’t told me,” he added about whether he will play. “I don’t want to ask. I’ll find out come game time.”
Smith and wife Shirley, who goes by Jewel, have learned to take a similar approach with their newest child, who was fed her first bottle over the weekend by her doting father.
“I’ve got an unbelievable wife,” Smith said. “I was the first person to give her a bottle. I can’t say enough about (Jewel) because she’s been there all day, every day. ... For her to let me do that was really cool.”
There is no scheduled date for Dakota to come home and join the couple’s other two daughters, Demi and Peyton, whose godfathers are NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
“My wife and I often think about it,” Smith said. “It makes us nervous because we don’t want to ask and they keep pushing it back, pushing it back. But we do want to ask because we don’t want to just go there one day and they’re like, ‘She’s ready to go.’ It’s a very thin line, but it will take care of itself.”
The 31-year-old, who has had on- and off-court problems in his 13-year career but has been extremely reliable since coming to Cleveland, praised all the hospital workers who have cared for his daughter.
“It’s amazing for her to grow and be where she is now,” he said. “The things they really do in there ... those people are really life-changers.
“I go out and perform in front of 20,000 people, but the pressure they’re under is second to none because the 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 dependable state. I’ve got to rely on you.’ Those are the real heroes.”
It’s also been an up-and-down season on the court for Smith, who missed 12 weeks after fracturing his right thumb in mid-December. If there was a silver lining, it was that the injury allowed him to be with his wife and their newborn.
“That’s my first priority,” Smith said of his family. “Basketball and whatever else after basketball is second. That’s my main focus. Fortunately, in this stretch coming down the home stretch of the season and for (Dakota), everything’s on the up and up. If it wasn’t, I can’t say I’d even be standing right here. I’m not going to lie to you. But everything is good, so I’m happy.
“Had I not gotten hurt, I probably still would have missed the same amount of games,” he added. “That’s no disrespect to my teammates or this organization, but for me, my family comes first. If you can’t accept that, I don’t know what else to tell you. That should be No. 1 for any and everybody, before any occupation.”
Smith missing games would have been OK with Lue, who would never ask his players to put basketball before their family.
“Family’s first,” the coach said.
Sometimes brash and emotional on the court but articulate and soft spoken off it, Smith empathized with Boston guard Isaiah Thomas, whose 22-year-old sister died in a car crash the day before the Celtics’ first playoff game.
“To lose someone like that and still have guys depending on you, it’s a very tough situation,” he said. “I feel for him so much, just from a man-to-man standpoint, not even as an athlete.”
The heavily-tattooed Smith is also able to relate to teammate Channing Frye, who in the regular season lost his parents within a month of one another.
“We’ve been through it as a team,” he said. “Off the court is a challenge. On the court is a challenge. If there’s any team or group of guys who understand how to persevere and get through, it’s this group of guys.
“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,” he added. “It’s nothing we take lightly. We try to get better as people and players every day.”
Smith, Lue said, is doing that.
“Being here is like his sanctuary, around the guys, around the players, around the team,” the coach said. “You get between these lines, you can kind of take your mind off it, hard as it is, playing basketball.
“We know it’s a tough situation to deal with. I pray for him every night.”
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