Wednesday , Mar , 07 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Isiah has the Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoff picture

(Sports Network) – New York head coach and team president Isiah Thomas was
put on notice prior to the season. Win now, or he would be looking for
employment elsewhere.

Thomas replaced former Knicks head coach Larry Brown, who had left the Detroit
Pistons after the 2004-05 campaign for his “Dream Job” with the Knicks and
guided the team to a dismal 23-59 record last season. The mark the worst for
the Knicks since an identical record in 1985-86. After just one season,
Brown was gone and Thomas, who joined the Knicks as president and general
manager on December 22, 2003, was left to fix the mess that he played a big
part in creating.

Knicks’ ownership knows contending for a championship is still not in the
cards, but team owner James Dolan wants a team that is at the least competing
for a playoff berth. Thomas believes in the roster that has been assembled,
and was told to back up his words and make it work.

Surprise, Thomas has transformed a team which still has salary cap issues and
players who have reputations of being selfish on the court into a factor in
the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Knicks had a chance to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff
spot in the East, but it wasn’t meant to be. Rashard Lewis’ three-pointer
with 4.8 seconds left lifted the Seattle SuperSonics over New York, 100-99, at
Madison Square Garden.

Point guard Stephon Marbury ended with 40 points for New York in the loss to
the SuperSonics, but missed the potential game-tying free throw with nine-
tenths of a second left.

“There is a lot of basketball left to be played,” Thomas said after the loss
to Seattle. “This game wasn’t the end all, be all game for us by no means. I
respect the team we played. (Ray) Allen and Lewis are good. Marbury had a
great game for us. He did a lot of things. We just didn’t quite have enough.
We do a good job of getting there (the free-throw line). We just don’t do a
good job of converting. That is not Marbury, it is the whole team.

“We have been working on that since day one. That is a big learning process
and that is a big growing step that we have to take. Hopefully we can take it
over these next 20 or so games. If we do make the playoffs, that is what
playoff basketball is about. It is not about the jump shot and all that. It is
about getting to the foul line. The team that gets to the foul line wins.”

Center Eddy Curry, who is playing in his second season with the Knicks,
contributed 15 points and eight rebounds against Seattle, while Quentin
Richardson ended with 12 points, nine boards and five assists. Curry finished
5-for-9 from the floor and just 5-of-10 from the charity stripe for New York,
which outrebounded the SuperSinics, 37-33, and shot 47.1 percent from the
field, including an impressive 45.8 percent from beyond the arc.

The 24-year-old Curry is playing in his sixth season in the NBA and is having
his most productive year. Teams have noticed his improvement and have started
to game plan around stopping him. Curry’s attitude and overall game has
improved under the guidance of Thomas, and the result is that he is developing
into one of the top centers in the league.

“The teams are definitely coming,” Curry said. “They are not going to let me
beat them. They are not going to let me have my way in the post. It is tough.
It is frustrating but I just look at it as a challenge. I have to find a way
to help my team win.”

With the development of Curry, solid play at the point from Marbury and the
emergence of second-year forward David Lee, who is averaging a double-double
this season, the Knicks are a serious threat to sneak into the postseason.
After 62 games played this season, New York has compiled a 28-34 record,
already an improvement from a year ago, and trails the eighth-seeded Orlando
Magic by just one game for the last playoff berth in the conference.

The injury bug has hampered the Knicks during the campaign. Guard Jamal
Crawford was having an excellent season until he suffered a right ankle
injury, which required surgery and is expected to keep him sidelined for
the remainder of the campaign. Lee has been dealing with a sprained right
ankle which has forced him to miss games recently, while Steve Francis,
Channing Frye, Jared Jeffries and Richardson have all missed significant time
because of various injuries.

New York will split its final 20 games between Madison Square Garden and the
road. Fourteen of the contests are against Eastern Conference squads.
Returning to the postseason for the first time since being swept in the
opening round of the 2004 playoffs by the New Jersey Nets is a real
possibility.

Thomas has done a very good job this season. With all of the internal problems
and difficult personalities on New York’s roster, the former Detroit Pistons
guard has figured out how to get the Knicks back to playing competitive
basketball. He has earned the right to return to the Knicks next season, if he
wants to.

NYK