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Isiah remains on task despite openness of fan disdain

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Isiah Thomas insists fans can influence
the way his team is playing.

Whether the New York Knicks coach expressed that belief to
anyone in the Madison Square Garden crowd Monday night remains a
mystery.

Thomas was repeatedly asked Tuesday about a season ticket
holder's claim following a loss to Dallas that the coach scolded
fans near the bench for not being more supportive of the team. He
eventually acknowledged that perhaps there was a discussion.

"I think I said to the refs, too, I said to the ref, 'If [the
Mavericks] let us hang around and we can scrap our way back into
the game, we'll have a chance to win it,' " Thomas said after
practice. "And I think I may have said that to one of the fans
sitting there. 'If we just hang around in this game and we keep
fighting, we'll have a shot of winning it.'

"I don't recall being combative. I think everything I've tried
to say here has been pretty positive about what the fans want, what
we want to give them."

That would differ from the account Mara Altschuler, a fan
sitting near the Knicks' bench, gave to reporters after Monday
night's game. She said Thomas told fans they were a poor "sixth
man" for the team, contrasting their lack of support with what
colleges like Indiana or North Carolina get at home.

The Knicks (6-14) have the second-worst record in the Eastern
Conference and entered the season following a sexual harassment
lawsuit brought by a former team executive. The Garden and Thomas
reached an $11.5 million settlement with Anucha Browne Sanders on Monday, and
commissioner David Stern announced Tuesday there would be no league punishment.

"Fire Isiah!" chants have resounded throughout the Garden during recent games. Though the
Knicks say they understand the fans' right to boo a poor
performance, the players clearly are bothered.

Thomas made it clear, however, that the booing will not detract from his attempt to turning around the Knicks' fortunes.

"The grit that you need and the determination you need to win and build a championship team, you've got to have some tough skin," Thomas said after New York's 99-89 loss to Dallas. "Your skin has to get thicker every day, not thinner.

"I fight 'til I die. It's not about giving up or quitting. To me, it's win or die. I literally mean death, I don't mean 'walk away.' I mean death. That's how I have coached. We've got a job to do here and we're going to get it done. I'm confident we have the right players and confident we have the right people, and we'll dig our way out of this."

Thomas said he'll occasionally talk to kids sitting near the
bench. He twice was criticized early last season after it was
reported he made seemingly threatening remarks to San Antonio's
Bruce Bowen and Denver's Carmelo Anthony -- the latter moments
before the start of a brawl.

NBA crowds and media sit closer to the action than in any other
major sport, and it's easy to hear conversations a coach might wish
remained private.

"We play in a very intimate environment and that's the beauty
of our game -- the fans are up close," Thomas said. "They get to
hear and see your frustration. They get to feel your sweat, see
your pain, live with your misery, celebrate your joys. That's the
beauty of our game. It's up close and very personal."

Zach Randolph said he's bothered by the openness of fans' animosity.

"It's real hard. I ain't never been in a situation like that and I don't understand," Randolph said. "I guess they say it's New York fans, but you know it's real tough. Honestly. Especially for me, because I've never experienced every time a player walks off the court you're booing.

"Everywhere else, in Portland, fans were a big part of our team. Fans are a big part of every team everywhere you go. We need the fans to be supportive with us, even when we're down."

Thomas and Crawford say fans don't come to the Garden planning
to boo, although the jeering starts when the coach is announced
during pregame introductions. Thomas thinks that's contributing to
the Knicks' poor starts.

"I believe that the fans positively impact performance,
whatever sport it is," Thomas said. "The fans impact and they
have a positive way of motivating you. But the boos motivate us
also because we know that the fans want more and they deserve more
and we want to give them more."

The crowds were just as harsh this time last year, but became
supportive following the Knicks' spirited play while short-handed
after the brawl.

"We were in a similar situation last year where we had to win
our fans back and I think we can do it again this year," Thomas
said. "We can win our fans back. Last year we had a difficult time
at home winning our fans and eventually we won them back and I
believe we can do it this year."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.