Thomas scores 29, grabs career-best 20 rebounds


NEW YORK (AP) -- For a change, the Knicks treated a double-digit
lead as though it was as safe as Don Chaney's job.

Kurt Thomas had 29 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, Allan
Houston scored 27 and the Knicks maintained control throughout the
second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 102-89 Tuesday night.

The victory came hours after the team announced that Chaney had
been given a contract extension through next season, removing his
lame-duck status.

"It gave everyone a very calm, at-ease mindset," said Thomas,
who also tied his career-high in points. "Knowing that Don is such
a great guy, you always want to see great guys come out well. No
one likes change."

The Knicks improved to 12-27 since Chaney replaced Jeff Van
Gundy, doing so by protecting a double-digit lead rather than
surrendering one as they had done a dozen times this season.

Thomas scored 20 points in the first half and finished 11-for-16
from the field, matching his career-high in points by making a pair
of free throws with 1:13 left. Latrell Sprewell added 18 points as
New York won for just the second time in nine games.

Sam Cassell had 18 for the Bucks, who had their three-game road
winning streak snapped.

"My hat goes off to the guys in the next locker room, but that
team is not supposed to beat this team," Cassell said.

Perhaps as a result of the removal of the uncertainty
surrounding their coaching situation, the Knicks played with a
measure of poise and confidence that had been absent throughout
this season.

Thomas was nearly unstoppable down low, Houston provided
perimeter shooting and the Knicks held Milwaukee's three 20-point
scorers below their averages.

Team president Scott Layden and owner James Dolan acknowledged
that the team is entering a transitional rebuilding phase, and they
said Chaney is the man they want coaching the team. Although they
improved to 22-36, the Knicks are almost certain to miss the
playoffs for the first time since 1987.

"It brought a stability to our minds. You're a little more sure
about the situation. You don't like to go out there not knowing
what's going to happen," Houston said. "No matter what, you know
this is the person you're going to have to respond to and buy into
what he's trying to do. That's basically what happened tonight, and
hopefully we can carry it on."

With the Bucks trailing 89-79 with 6:13 left in the fourth,
Anthony Mason drew two technical fouls and an ejection for
complaining about a charging foul on Glenn Robinson.

Just 20 seconds later, Cassell was ejected after he vehemently
complained that he had cleanly blocked a shot by Thomas. Thomas
made all three foul shots for a 92-79 lead.

Howard Eisley hit a rainbow 3-pointer -- his only field goal of
the game -- with 5:06 left for a 95-81 lead, and Thomas sank a
16-footer with 3:29 left to increase the lead to 15.

After trailing most of the first two quarters, the Knicks took
the lead for good on a 5-foot jumper by Thomas with 1:40 left in
the second quarter as part of a 14-2 run to close the first half.

Clarence Weatherspoon scored 11 points in the third quarter and
Houston had nine as New York maintained a sizable lead for most of
the period.

Game notes
The Bucks signed free agent guard Greg Anthony, who was
released by Chicago last Friday. Anthony played the final five
minutes after Cassell was ejected, going 1-for-2 from the field
with one assist. ... Thomas' previous career-high was 18 rebounds.
... The Knicks committed only eight turnovers, three by Eisley. ...
New York won the season series 3-1.