DENVER — J.R. Smith has the ability to drive Denver Coach George Karl insane.
"Love him," Karl said after Smith drove the Lakers crazy with 24 points, four assists, two steals and his usual trash-talking ways during Denver's 120-101 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Monday night at the Pepsi Center.
Karl paused for about two seconds and smiled.
"And I hate him," Karl said affectionately about the wild, combustible Smith.
And here's why Karl has a love-hate relationship with Smith.
Smith can be the difference-maker for the Nuggets in this series, the sixth man whom the Lakers have difficulty stopping.
He was nine for 17 from the field, four for nine from three-point range.
He can be a decent defender, at times guarding Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers often have Sasha Vujacic defending Smith, with no success.
"His penetration was great for us," Karl said. "He made some great passes early."
Then there is the Smith who showboats, who raises his hands in the air after making a three-pointer, who gets in the face of Vujacic, who gets a technical foul for elbowing Vujacic.
Smith sat at the postgame podium with his baby daughter, seemingly at ease with his performance, even when asked how he would feel if an opponent were showboating on him.
"I would be upset," Smith said. "I'm not going to lie. I would be upset if somebody is out there tearing us up and hitting threes and showboating. But at the same time, that's the way we play. That's the way the Denver Nuggets play. We play with emotion. We play with adrenaline. We've just got to make sure it's positive emotion."
Smith got a technical foul in Game 3 for trash-talking.
When he has noticed Smith going off, losing his composure, Karl said he does one thing.
"I yell at my assistants a lot," Karl said. "It's all their faults."
Smith was four for 15 in Game 3. He was not happy with his play.
"I was really down on myself," Smith said. "Fortunately, I have great teammates and great coaches who stay in the gym with me to work on my game, conversate with me on what I'm doing wrong. It was a tough time, but thankfully I'm out of it."
Chauncey Billups, who sat at the podium next to Smith, asked his volatile teammate where he ranked, as a coach or a teammate.
Smith smiled and laughed.
"You might be in the middle," Smith said. "He got mad at me today, and I felt so bad that I had to put a towel over my head. But we got it straight."