Wilkens' comments similar to last days with Raps

Updated: January 18, 2005, 7:54 PM ET
Associated Press

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Lenny Wilkens gathered the New York Knicks together Tuesday and told them they're a better team than they've shown while losing seven of their last eight games.

Whether he sticks around long enough to deliver any more speeches remains to be seen. The Knicks are again slumping, and when slumps happen in New York, changes happen.

"I'm going to do my job, and whatever happens happens," Wilkens said. "I know who I am, and I have confidence in my abilities and don't worry about other things, things I can't control."

Wilkens' comments were oddly similar to ones he made at the end of the 2002-03 season in his final days as head coach of the Raptors. Wilkens will be back in Toronto on Wednesday night when the Knicks play the Raptors, and the speculation over his job security is certain to be ratcheted up if the Knicks lose again.

Knicks president Isiah Thomas was not at the team's practice facility Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.

In his last public remarks nearly a week and a half ago, Thomas called the Knicks a .500 club, or perhaps a little better. That statement, widely interpreted as an effort by Thomas to lower expectations, has been followed by a loss to the New Orleans Hornets and back-to-back defeats against Chicago.

In the latest loss, the Knicks' coaching staff had a lapse when it failed to ask the referees to put time back on the clock after Ben Gordon hit a runner to give the Bulls a two-point lead. Television replays showed the shot going through with 0.6 seconds left, but the clock ran down to 0.1.

Had the Knicks gotten at least two-tenths of a second placed back on the clock, they would have had the option of running a play in which someone could have caught an inbounds pass and launched a quick shot.

Instead, their only option was to loft the inbounds pass toward the basket and hope for a tip-in - although Jerome Williams failed to do even that when he saw Bulls big men Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler camped under the hoop.

Wilkens' use of his personnel also has been questioned, including his decision to leave Allan Houston on the bench for almost the entire fourth quarters of the two losses to the Bulls.

Both games came down to the Knicks getting one final attempt, and in both instances Wilkens designed plays with the final shot going to rookie Trevor Ariza.

"Lenny's not the one out on the court, we're the ones out on the court," said Stephon Marbury, who defended the job Wilkens is doing.

"If you had your full team and things were going bad, then you could put most of the blame on the coach. But for us, we've had three or four starters out, so we're not playing with our full team. So it's not fair to coach to basically say 'Lenny Wilkens, he doesn't know what he's doing,' or 'He's not getting the most out of the team.'

"That's not right, and that's not fair," Marbury said.

Indeed, the Knicks just got Jamal Crawford back from a 10-game injury absence, and Tim Thomas played only four minutes Monday in his first game back after a three-game injury absence. Reserves Penny Hardaway and Michael Sweetney also have been sidelined, helping contribute to New York's recent slide.

The Knicks' solo hold on first place in the weak Atlantic Division, which may have given them a false sense of accomplishment over the past month and a half, exists no more. Monday's loss dropped them into a dead heat with Boston, and Philadelphia's victory over New Orleans made it a three-way tie.

Following their trip to Toronto, the Knicks return home for four games before embarking on a difficult six-game road trip to play the Pistons, Clippers, Nuggets, Kings, Suns and Jazz.

It's quite possible that things could get worse for the Knicks rather quickly, and Wilkens apparently felt a need to make a statement to the team on the eve of such a critical juncture in their schedule.

"It was a Lenny Wilkens speech. His point got across," Houston said. "Very briefly we covered it all. We talked about what we need to do as a mentality more than anything. We need to be more resilient."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press