The New York Knicks already were focused on trying to secure a playoff berth. The only difference now is they don't have to get one for Isiah Thomas to keep his job.

Thomas will coach his first game after receiving a multiyear contract extension when New York visits the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

This deal comes nine months after Thomas was warned by Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan that the team needed to improve after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.

The Knicks (29-34) were 13-20 through the first two months of the season, but have improved despite injuries to key players like Steve Francis, David Lee and Quentin Richardson.

New York is already six wins better than its total from last season, when it finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. This season, the team is battling Indiana, New Jersey and Orlando for the conference's final two playoff spots.

"My thinking was that it was going to go the whole season," Dolan said. "But in the last few weeks I've just become absolutely convinced and I think they've shown, they've done what we asked them to do. And I felt that now is the time to do it.

Thomas, who also will return as the team's president, took on coaching duties in June when Larry Brown was fired after one season.

"I feel good that the uncertainty about my professional situation is cleared up, Thomas said. "But again, the most important thing is that we keep our team moving forward and we stay focused and continue to try to get into the playoffs."

New York has won three of four, including a 90-89 win at Washington on Monday as Francis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"Just happy, man, that we won. A win is a win. I don't care how you get it, said Francis, who matched a season high with 26 points and went 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

Francis is averaging a career-low 10.3 points while playing just 30 games during a season marred by injuries, but has scored 26 points twice in his last three games.

Stephon Marbury scored 15 after averaging 37.3 points in his previous three games.

Francis and Marbury were held to a combined 10 points in a 103-100 loss to Toronto on Dec. 2 in the only meeting this season.

While Lee is still day-to-day with a sprained right ankle, the Knicks also could be without Richardson, who missed Saturday's game with a sore lower back. Richardson had 16 points and 16 rebounds against Toronto in December.

Having both sidelined could hinder the Knicks chances of snapping a four-game losing streak at Toronto (35-29). The Knicks are 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Raptors, who own the fifth-best record in the East and have won seven of the last nine meetings with New York.

Chris Bosh had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and T.J. Ford had 19 points and nine assists in Toronto's 108-93 win at Milwaukee on Monday for its third straight win after losing three in a row.

"The attitude of everyone in this locker room now is we're playing like we're in the playoffs, said Ford, who is averaging 22.0 points and 11.0 assists in his last two games.

In his first season in Toronto after spending his first two with Milwaukee, Ford is averaging a career-high 14.0 points and 7.7 assists. He had 20 points and 10 assists in Toronto's 103-100 win over the Knicks on Dec. 2 in the teams' only meeting this season.

Bosh had 26 points and 13 rebounds in that victory, and enters this matchup seeking a third straight double-double. The All-Star forward is averaging 27.2 points in his last six games against New York.

The teams also play in New York on Sunday.


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