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Posted Dec 13 2006 12:20AM
It appears New York Knicks center Eddy Curry has shown ``evident progress'' through 23 games.
But it is uncertain whether that and the play of his team will improve enough to save Isiah Thomas by season's end.
One day after Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan reiterated his ultimatum to coach and team president Thomas for the Knicks to show ``evident progress'' or lose his job, the team wraps up a season-high six-game homestand Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Dolan spoke to the media for the first time since July - when he named Thomas coach and gave him this season to improve on the disastrous 2005-06 season in which the Knicks went 23-59 that cost predecessor Larry Brown his job - and did not sound pleased.
``If we end up the season where we are now, in terms of this development, I think we would all be disappointed,'' Dolan said Tuesday. ``I don't mean in terms of the record, just, I mean, in terms of the execution of the team, the performance of the team.''
But the record, execution and performance of the Knicks (8-15) have left much to be desired as they enter this game trying to salvage a split of their homestand. Another disheartening home loss - 97-90 Monday to the Boston Celtics - in which New York trailed by 30 points in the third quarter before rallying within three left Thomas at a loss for positives.
``I'm baffled by it,'' he admitted. ``I thought we would come out in the first half, particularly the first 5-6 minutes of the game. ... I don't think I've been more disappointed in a loss than this one.''
Curry recorded his second consecutive 30-point game after scoring a career-high 36 in a win Saturday over Milwaukee, and the 24-year-old center has averaged 25.4 points in his last 10 games to raise his season average to a team-leading 18.3.
Thomas also got some help with the season debut of forward Jared Jeffries, who had seven points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Jeffries, a free agent signing in the offseason, missed the first 22 games after breaking his left wrist in New York's first preseason game.
New York has won 13 of its last 14 home games against Atlanta, with the lone loss coming April 17, 2005.
The Hawks (8-11) look to avoid matching a season-high four-game losing streak after Tuesday's 100-87 loss to Denver. They dropped four in a row from Nov. 11-22.
``They came with energy on defense,'' Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia said. ``We had no energy in the fourth quarter. I don't know why.''
The Hawks were outscored 17-1 to start the final period, not getting a basket until a layup by Solomon Jones with 5:11 left.
It was their second game without leading scorer Joe Johnson, who was sidelined with a calf injury. He is expected to miss at least two more games before returning Saturday against Chicago.
Johnson, who is fourth in the league with 28.7 points per game, had 30 points in a 102-92 win Nov. 3 over New York in the first meeting of the season between the teams.
On Tuesday, Royal Ivey started in place of Johnson and scored two points. Mike Woodson tried Ivey after experimenting with Marvin Williams in the backcourt in Atlanta's loss Sunday to Sacramento in which the second-year player shot 1-for-8 from the field.
The Hawks are coming to the end of an eight-game stretch that includes seven road contests. They have won only two of the first six games and visit Memphis on Friday before starting a three-game homestand Saturday.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 21 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday and likely will be the first offensive option again. The 21-year-old has averaged 10.6 points in nine games against the Knicks.
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