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'Realistic' Thomas gives Wilkens his support

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Knicks are back at .500 again,
which is exactly where team president Isiah Thomas believes they
belong.

Allan Houston had his best game of the season with 25 points on
8-for-12 shooting, and Jerome Williams played 44 minutes in his
first start for the Knicks to lead New York past the Portland Trail
Blazers 113-105 Sunday night.

Williams had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, setting a
positive tone early in the first quarter by knocking a ball loose
from Ruben Patterson and diving over the baseline to save it.

Williams also had two fast-break baskets in the fourth quarter
that helped the Knicks end a season-high four-game losing streak
and even their record at 17-17.

"I'm very realistic about where we are and what type of team we
have," team president Isiah Thomas said. "I don't think we're at
the upper echelon of the league right now. We've still got a long
way to go in terms of trying to get better.

"Our record is indicative of who we are and what we are, and
it's not a record to be ashamed of."

The victory should provide some job security for Knicks coach
Lenny Wilkens, who acknowledged before the game that his slumping
team has chemistry problems to go along with its assortment of
injuries.

Williams started in place of Tim Thomas, who sat out due to knee
and calf injuries, and Houston made his eighth consecutive start in
place of Jamal Crawford (toe injury).

Houston made four 3-pointers while surpassing his previous
season-high of 21, and Stephon Marbury had 20 points and 12 assists
while outplaying his cousin, Portland rookie Sebastian Telfair.

Portland allowed the Knicks to shoot a season-high 58.6 percent,
with New York scoring 26 points on the fast break.

One of the Knicks' nicest looking fast-break buckets gave
Marbury his 12th and final assist when he fed Trevor Ariza for an
alley-oop dunk off a 3-on-1 break for a 107-92 lead with 2:53
remaining.

The Blazers had pulled within seven points on Damon Stoudamire's
3-pointer that made it 84-77 just seconds into the fourth quarter,
but the Knicks responded with a 7-0 run ending in a three-point
play by Williams off another 3-on-1 break.

The victory was the 1,332nd of Wilkens' coaching career and his
40th in 76 games with New York since taking over from Don Chaney
nearly a year ago. The Knicks' recent slide had rekindled talk
about Wilkens' job security -- chatter that'll likely continue if
the Knicks remain mired in mediocrity.

Asked if Wilkens' job was safe, Thomas answered: "Yeah. I have
no issues with what he's done. Every time we lose a game, it's not
the coach's fault.

"I'm not about to get into making bold statements," Thomas
said. "I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. All I know is
what we're doing here internally, we're happy with our progress. We
know what we're doing, we know where we're going, and we're OK."

Thomas, who had a lengthy talk with team owner James Dolan under
the stands in the minutes before the opening tip, seems to have
abandoned any pretense of trying to raise expectations for the team
he took over almost 13 months ago.

In their four previous games, the Knicks lost to Cleveland by
25, and to Miami, Sacramento and New Jersey by single-digit
margins.

"Where we're trying to get to, progress here is being made,"
Thomas said. "Right now we're probably about a .500 team or maybe
a little bit better, and this is kind of what it looks like. Those
who have been around a team that wins 42 or 43 games, this is what
it looks like.

"We're not fooling ourselves, we don't think we're a 60-win
team."

Zach Randolph scored 27 and Patterson added 20 for the Trail
Blazers, whose losing streak increased to four games as they
dropped a season-low four games under .500 (14-18) while starting a
six-game, nine-day road trip.

The Trail Blazers, losers of six of their last seven games, fell
behind by double digits in the first quarter and never got closer
than six points in the fourth quarter while exerting little effort
defensively and showing only brief flashes of cohesion offensively.

"We've got to find the right combination, that's all,"
Stoudamire said. "Losing games is rough on everybody, but we've
just got to find a way to start games off better."

Game notes
Ariza, a rookie, tied his season high of 14 points. ...
Telfair had a season-high seven assists. ... With Michael Sweetney
missing his third straight game because of a sprained ankle, the
Knicks had only 10 players available. ... South Korean center Ha
Seung-Jin played the final 2 minutes and had two assists and a
foul. ... Portland F James Thomas, signed out of the NBDL earlier
in the day, played the final three minutes and had one assist and
one rebound.